Sunday, March 4, 2012

Flashman at the Charge - Chapter 3

Chapter 3 of Flashman at the Charge sees Harry and Willy arrive in the Crimea itself. Most of the chapter concerns itself with the old soldier's observations on the campaign itself, the conduct and general incompetence of the commanders and while most of this is common knowledge it still stuns me that it was true of many of the British commanders of the day, yet they were still successful so often.

There's a mention of a correspondent by the name of Billy Russell. Flashman confesses to liking the man, he's not the only journalist mentioned in the papers and they generally come off fairly favourably. Maybe George MacDonald Fraser's bias, being an old journalist himself, was showing here.

Willy is eager to get into the action and it's all Harry can do to hold him back. The young prince sees war as a great adventure and keeps comparing what they're doing to the knights of old. Harry of course knows better, having experienced at least two fairly bloody campaigns already (Flashman and Flashman and the Mountain of Light) and his natural cowardice kicks in. Flashman doesn't have to go anywhere near the action, his reputation is enough to keep him away from the front lines.

Sure enough Willy does something rash and while Raglan screams at Harry to get after him, Harry pretends not to hear and when he does finally have to go it's too late. Poor Willy is killed. Flashman's reaction, which is mostly fear that his reputation and career will be shot (after all he was partially responsible for the death of Queen Victoria's nephew), is mistaken for grief at what happened to his young companion.

A moment of high hilarity is sobered by a very poignant reflection. Raglan carpets Flashman, blaming him for the tragedy, which is true enough, then hands him Willy's effects, one of which is a locket containing a picture of a girl Raglan describes as: 'the face of a boy's sweetheart, chaste, trusting and innocent.' Harry nearly laughs, because the last time he had seen the poor sweet creature she had been wearing a pair of black satin boots and nothing else. Yes, Willy had worn the image of St John's Woods whore into battle! If Flashman had his way Willy would be back in London pleasuring himself with the girl, but he then wonders if Raglan and any of the boy's pious relatives would have called him back to life on those terms. The chapter ends with three heartbreaking words: Poor little Willy.

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