This is a tale by R. F. Delderfield chronicling the deeds of a group of Napoleonic soldiers. It starts with an Old Soldier
telling stories to a priest. Then it jumps back to the soldier's memory of when he was a Gascon boy with artistic instincts, named Gabriel. Gabriel enlists in the French army, in the realization that conscription
would find him sooner or later. He joins a squad of men and a pretty camp follower named Nicholette. Their adventures continue to and fro and, in the end, Gabriel and Nicholette are the only survivors and they marry and retire into respectable civilian life. At the end, the scene returns to the old soldier, Gabriel, who gives his sketches to the priest for the benefit of posterity.
This story provides examples of:
- A Father to His Men : Sergeant Jean is this to The Squad.
- Anyone Can Die: And almost everyone does.
- Battle Couple: Nicholette was part of three battle couples. Or to put it another way, she was "married" to The Squad and it sent three successive representatives. It Makes Sense in Context.
- Cartwright Curse: Nicholette. Justified.
- Celibate Hero: Sergeant Jean is never shown seeking feminine companionship except in a fatherly(to Nicholette) or brotherly(to Nicholette's mother) way.
- Child Soldiers: Nicholette was raised in camp and followed the French army all her life.
- Cannon Fodder : The character's profession.
- Death Glare: Nicholette is good at this. It is a useful way of avoiding giving favors she does not wish to give.
- Friendly Sniper: The whole squad, as they are in a light-infantry unit.
- Lady of War: The cantiniere (wine-seller) Nicholette. Real Life cantinieres couldn't afford to be ladylike of course, but Nicholette carries herself with as much grace as she can manage.
- Married in Army Camp: Nicholette's first marriage is to a member of The Squad until he dies. Sergeant Jean handles the wedding, by an army custom which we are assured is respected more than a canonical wedding.
- Married to the Job : Sergeant Jean is to dedicated to soldiering to worry about women.
- Men Are the Expendable Gender: All the squad dies except Gabriel. Nicholette of course survives.
- Obligatory War Crime Scene: After several stray soldiers are captured by partisans and killed in cold blood(including one who was crucified for being a Jew), they are ordered to a nearby Spanish hamlet to shoot every male resident.
- Old Soldier: Sergeant Jean, later Gabriel. Nicholette is this at 16.
- Nicholette's mother, too, though she unlike her daughter is not a Lady of War, as she is unladylike. But she taught Nicholette how to survive on campaign.
- One of the Boys: Nicholette
- Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Nicholette makes several consecutive marriages out of convenience even though they are Just Friends. It is a necessity for a woman surrounded by thousands of young men. As it happens she is satisfied, or at least uninterested in alternatives.
- More precisely, her first husband drowned, her second was executed for desertion, and Gabriel was the last one, with whom she retired into civilian life.
- Her first marriage was decided by lot but Nicholette secretly asked that it be rigged in favor of the man she thought would bother her the least because she only had a minor interest in it at the time.
- Moral Myopia: How dare Spaniards, Russians, and Germans, not appreciate the gift of having the French Army as guests!
- My Master, Right or Wrong: Sergeant Jean to Napolean. Typical of a Napoleanic soldier of legend.
- Napoleon Bonaparte: He appears from time to time.
- Napoleonic Wars
- Sergeant Rock: Sergeant Jean
- The Squad
- True Companions
- War Is Hell
- War Is Glorious
- Warrior Poet: Gabriel is a warrior-artist who draws sketches of his experiences.