Saturday, September 11, 2010

27. Death in the Jungle: Part 11

[Turn Eleven Begins]

The newly arrived Natives, under the leadership of the Brown-shielded Pygmy, advanced fearlessly towards the Tirailleurs Sénégalais, under the leadership of the equally fearless Caporal Chien.  And while Chien might count himself fearless, he had no such delusions about his men:  they were spooked.  He growled out a command to keep them from wasting badly-aimed shots at the approaching cannibals.
Almost immediately, however, he regretted holding them back, as l'indigènes raised their blowpipes to their lips and a cloud of feathered death overtook the tirailleurs.  Three of Chien's men -- Dogo, Ogo, and Mecbeth -- collapsed, prickling with darts.  Chien's nerve began to weaken, and he "allowed" his troops to fall back in some disorder.

Their targets now out of range of their blowguns, the Pygmies turned their attention and their darts to squad 'A' of la légion étrangère.  Despite the jungle foliage separating them from their quarry, the deadly darts struck home once again!  Three of la légionnaires fell, one of whom was the redoubtable Sergent Cur.  The discipline of la légion shone through:  even without their sergent they fired in reply, then fell back in good order, taking their wounded with them.  Through the swirling world as he began to black out from the poison, Cur saw his men's shots miss.
Cpl Chien, meanwhile, having witnessed the devastation wrought on the brave légionnaires, ordered his own brave Black soldiers to fire on their diminutive, man-eating cousins.  This time their shots struck home, and two Pygmies fell to the jungle floor.  Chien expected them to shoot back; instead he was amazed as they retained their coolness and glared at him, without making a sound.

To the right of the immediate action, Lieutenant Frye heard the gunfire and smelled the powder on the damp, still jungle air.  The raucous birds had long since ceased to sing, and the chattering monkeys had hidden themselves after the first loud exchanges.  When 'A' squad retreated even with Frye's line, he knew he had better take charge of the situation.  Just when he though he had one area under control, les petits hommes condamnés seemed to spring up anew somewhere else!  First, he must rid himself of the threat to his front.

The senior trooper of 'B' légionnaires, Cane, was showing great promise.  Frye rapped out an order to him, and watched favorably as Cane carried it out smoothly.  His men took aim at l'indigènes at the shrine, fired, but missed.  "Merde."  The cowering Natives would not be shifted from their miserable shrine.

All around him, the jungle held its breath.  No new Natives appeared and none moved in sight.  Were they taunting le Français by ceding the initiative, Frye wondered?  It did not matter; he would take it whether they would give it or no!  With a careful order, Frye had Cane and the senior trooper in 'A' squad -- like Cane, an Italian; Lupo by name -- form their men into a more open unit.
It was disconcerting, to say the least, how the Brown-shielded Pygmy so silently watched the légionnaires.  Neither he nor his men moved a muscle.  Frye ordered his two squads of légionnaires to advance towards the silent Pygmy troop.  Sûrement no mere Natives could resist the will of Imperial France!

Squad 'A' advanced with good cover, as did 'B' squad.
Yet when the men reached some secret predetermined distance, the implacable cannibals finally reacted.  Choosing to fall back a short distance, nevertheless they blew their darts at 'A'.  Despite the intervening jungle and the extreme distance, their accuracy was uncanny:  a single légionnaire dropped.  Trooper Lupo's own reaction was one of a man who was tired, hot, sweaty, thirsty, surrounded and completely understandable if never excusable:  he took his men away from the danger at a trot.  Frye shouted his anger and frustration at the retreating backs of the men of 'A' squad.
After stomping the thick jungle grass with his boots in a temper tantrum worthy of much more famous generals, Lt Frye recalled himself to himself.  Hollering over his shoulder, he ordered L'Infanterie des Marines to come up next to his position to fill the gap caused by the loss of 'A' squad.
L'indigènes did nothing.

Lt Frye was no longer sure they were not so certain of their victory that initiative was unimportant to them.

To the Lieutenant's immense relief, as he cast his gaze back towards 'A' squad, he saw the fallen men begin to stir and recover.  Sgt Cur and two others regained their feet, however unsteadily:  the poison had not been thick enough to kill them.  Their fourth, however, a quiet Dutchman called Hond, would rise no more forever.
Beyond his sight, Cpl Chien's tirailleurs recovered two of their three wounded.  Dogo and Ogo stood shakily, but not Mecbeth.

Little by little, Frye's force was being whittled away.

And not only to Frye's satisfaction, but also to Cur's and Chien's as well, the two dead Pygmies from the Brown-shield group stayed dead.

This provided the encouragement the tirailleurs needed, and they returned to a normal readiness.  Légionnaire squad 'A', however, was too far away to see the good news; Cur was too preoccupied with regained his wits, and his men stayed disorganized.

Quietly and unseen, the Natives hiding behind the shrine area recouped their nerve.

To Frye, the battle seemed to hang on a knife's edge.  His force was tired and weakened, yet their goal was attainable and almost within reach.  If only they could drive off these inscrutable, undaunted Pgymies!

The jungle dripped with wet anticipation.

[Turn Eleven Ends]

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