White Lies by Charles Reade
The French army lay before a fortified place near the Rhine, which we will call Philipsburg.
This army knew Bonaparte by report only; it was commanded by generals of the old school.
Philipsburg was defended on three sides by the nature of the ground; but on the side that faced the French line of march there was only a zigzag wall, pierced, and a low tower or two at each of the salient angles.
There were evidences of a tardy attempt to improve the defences. In particular there was a large round bastion, about three times the height of the wall; but the masonry was new, and the very embrasures were not yet cut.
Young blood was for assaulting these equivocal fortifications at the end of the day's march that brought the French advanced guard in sight of the place; but the old generals would not hear of it; the soldiers' lives must not be flung away assaulting a place that could be reduced in twenty-one days with mathematical certainty. For at this epoch a siege was looked on as a process with a certain result, the only problem was in how many days would the place be taken; and even this they used to settle to a day or two on paper by arithmetic; so many feet of wall, and so many guns on the one side; so many guns, so many men, and such and such a soil to cut the trenches in on the other: result, two figures varying from fourteen to forty. These two figures represented the duration of the siege.
For all that, siege arithmetic, right in general, has often been terribly disturbed by one little incident, that occurs from time to time; viz., Genius inside. And, indeed, this is one of the sins of genius; it goes and puts out calculations that have stood the brunt of years. Archimedes and Todleben were, no doubt, clever men in their way and good citizens, yet one characteristic of delicate men's minds they lacked--veneration; they showed a sad disrespect for the wisdom of the ancients, deranged the calculations which so much learning and patient thought had hallowed, disturbed the minds of white-haired veterans, took sieges out of the grasp of science, and plunged them back into the field of wild conjecture.
Our generals then sat down at fourteen hundred yards' distance, and planned the trenches artistically, and directed them to be cut at artful angles, and so creep nearer and nearer the devoted town. Then the Prussians, whose hearts had been in their shoes at first sight of the French shakos, plucked up, and turned not the garrison only but the population of the town into engineers and masons. Their fortifications grew almost as fast as the French trenches.
The first day of the siege, a young but distinguished brigadier in the French army rode to the quarters of General Raimbaut, who commanded his division, and was his personal friend, and respectfully but firmly entreated the general to represent to the commander-in-chief the propriety of assaulting that new bastion before it should become dangerous. "My brigade shall carry it in fifteen minutes, general," said he.
"What! cross all that open under fire? One-half your brigade would never reach the bastion."
"But the other half would take it."
"That is not so certain."
General Raimbaut refused to forward the young colonel's proposal to headquarters. "I will not subject you to two refusals in one matter," said he, kindly.
The young colonel lingered. He said, respectfully, "One question, general, when that bastion cuts its teeth will it be any easier to take than now?"
"Certainly; it will always be easier to take it from the sap than to cross the open under fire to it, and take it. Come, colonel, to your trenches; and if your friend should cut its teeth, you shall have a battery in your attack that will set its teeth on edge. Ha! ha!"
The young colonel did not echo his chief's humor; he saluted gravely, and returned to the trenches.
The next morning three fresh tiers of embrasures grinned one above another at the besiegers. The besieged had been up all night, and not idle. In half these apertures black muzzles showed themselves.
The bastion had cut its front teeth.
Thirteenth day of the siege.
The trenches were within four hundred yards of the enemy's guns, and it was hot work in them. The enemy had three tiers of guns in the round bastion, and on the top they had got a long 48-pounder, which they worked with a swivel joint, or the like, and threw a great roaring shot into any part of the French lines.
As to the commander-in-chief and his generals, they were dotted about a long way in the rear, and no shot came as far as them; but in the trenches the men began now to fall fast, especially on the left attack, which faced the round bastion. Our young colonel had got his heavy battery, and every now and then he would divert the general efforts of the bastion, and compel it to concentrate its attention on him, by pounding away at it till it was all in sore places. But he meant it worse mischief than that. Still, as heretofore, regarding it as the key to Philipsburg, he had got a large force of engineers at work driving a mine towards it, and to this he trusted more than to breaching it; for the bigger holes he made in it by day were all stopped at night by the townspeople.
This colonel was not a favorite in the division to which his brigade belonged. He was a good soldier, but a dull companion. He was also accused of hauteur and of an unsoldierly reserve with his brother officers.
Some loose-tongued ones even called him a milk-sop, because he was constantly seen conversing with the priest--he who had nothing to say to an honest soldier.
Others said, "No, hang it, he is not a milk-sop: he is a tried soldier: he is a sulky beggar all the same." Those under his immediate command were divided in opinion about him. There was something about him they could not understand. Why was his sallow face so stern, so sad? and why with all that was his voice so gentle? somehow the few words that did fall from his mouth were prized. One old soldier used to say, "I would rather have a word from our brigadier than from the commander-in-chief." Others thought he must at some part of his career have pillaged a church, taken the altar-piece, and sold it to a picture-dealer in Paris, or whipped the earrings out of the Madonna's ears, or admitted the female enemy to quarter upon ungenerous conditions: this, or some such crime to which we poor soldiers are liable: and now was committing the mistake of remording himself about it. "Always alongside the chaplain, you see!"
This cold and silent man had won the heart of the most talkative sergeant in the French army. Sergeant La Croix protested with many oaths that all the best generals of the day had commanded him in turn, and that his present colonel was the first that had succeeded in inspiring him with unlimited confidence. "He knows every point of war--this one," said La Croix, "I heard him beg and pray for leave to storm this thundering bastion before it was armed: but no, the old muffs would be wiser than our colonel. So now here we are kept at bay by a place that Julius Caesar and Cannibal wouldn't have made two bites at apiece; no more would I if I was the old boy out there behind the hill." In such terms do sergeants denote commanders-in-chief--at a distance. A voluble sergeant has more influence with the men than the minister of war is perhaps aware: on the whole, the 24th brigade would have followed its gloomy colonel to grim death and a foot farther. One thing gave these men a touch of superstitious reverence for their commander. He seemed to them free from physical weakness. He never sat down to dinner, and seemed never to sleep. At no hour of the day or night were the sentries safe from his visits.
Very annoying. But, after awhile, it led to keen watchfulness: the more so that the sad and gloomy colonel showed by his manner he appreciated it. Indeed, one night he even opened his marble jaws, and told Sergeant La Croix that a watchful sentry was an important soldier, not to his brigade only, but to the whole army. Judge whether the maxim and the implied encomium did not circulate next morning, with additions.
Sixteenth day of the siege. The round bastion opened fire at eight o'clock, not on the opposing battery, but on the right of the French attack. Its advanced position enabled a portion of its guns to rake these trenches slant-wise: and depressing its guns it made the round shot strike the ground first and ricochet over.
On this our colonel opened on them with all his guns: one of these he served himself. Among his other warlike accomplishments, he was a wonderful shot with a cannon. He showed them capital practice this morning: drove two embrasures into one, and knocked about a ton of masonry off the parapet. Then taking advantage of this, he served two of his guns with grape, and swept the enemy off the top of the bastion, and kept it clear. He made it so hot they could not work the upper guns. Then they turned the other two tiers all upon him, and at it both sides went ding, dong, till the guns were too hot to be worked. So then Sergeant La Croix popped his head up from the battery, and showed the enemy a great white plate. This was meant to convey to them an invitation to dine with the French army: the other side of the table of course.
To the credit of Prussian intelligence be it recorded, that this pantomimic hint was at once taken and both sides went to dinner.
The fighting colonel, however, remained in the battery, and kept a detachment of his gunners employed cooling the guns and repairing the touch-holes. He ordered his two cutlets and his glass of water into the battery.
Meantime, the enemy fired a single gun at long intervals, as much as to say, "We had the last word."
Let trenches be cut ever so artfully, there will be a little space exposed here and there at the angles. These spaces the men are ordered to avoid, or whip quickly across them into cover.
Now the enemy had just got the range of one of these places with their solitary gun, and had already dropped a couple of shot right on to it. A camp follower with a tray, two cutlets, and a glass of water, came to this open space just as a puff of white smoke burst from the bastion. Instead of instantly seeking shelter till the shot had struck, he, in his inexperience, thought the shot must have struck, and all danger be over. He stayed there mooning instead of pelting under cover: the shot (eighteen-pound) struck him right on the breast, knocked him into spilikins, and sent the mutton cutlets flying.
The human fragments lay quiet, ten yards off. But a soldier that was eating his dinner kicked it over, and jumped up at the side of "Death's Alley" (as it was christened next minute), and danced and yelled with pain.
"Haw! haw! haw!" roared a soldier from the other side of the alley.
"What is that?" cried Sergeant La Croix. "What do you laugh at, Private Cadel?" said he sternly, for, though he was too far in the trench to see, he had heard that horrible sound a soldier knows from every other, the "thud" of a round shot striking man or horse.
"Sergeant," said Cadel, respectfully, "I laugh to see Private Dard, that got the wind of the shot, dance and sing, when the man that got the shot itself does not say a word."
"The wind of the shot, you rascal!" roared Private Dard: "look here!" and he showed the blood running down his face.
The shot had actually driven a splinter of bone out of the sutler into Dard's temple.
"I am the unluckiest fellow in the army," remonstrated Dard: and he stamped in a circle.
"Seems to me you are only the second unluckiest this time," said a young soldier with his mouth full; and, with a certain dry humor, he pointed vaguely over his shoulder with the fork towards the corpse.
The trenches laughed and assented.
This want of sympathy and justice irritated Dard. "You cursed fools!" cried he. "He is gone where we must all go--without any trouble. But look at me. I am always getting barked. Dogs of Prussians! they pick me out among a thousand. I shall have a headache all the afternoon, you see else."
Some of our heads would never have ached again: but Dard had a good thick skull.
Dard pulled out his spilikin savagely.
"I'll wrap it up in paper for Jacintha," said he. "Then that will learn her what a poor soldier has to go through."
Even this consolation was denied Private Dard.
Corporal Coriolanus Gand, a bit of an infidel from Lyons, who sometimes amused himself with the Breton's superstition, told him with a grave face, that the splinter belonged not to him, but to the sutler, and, though so small, was doubtless a necessary part of his frame.
"If you keep that, it will be a bone of contention between you two," said he; "especially at midnight. He will be always coming back to you for it."
"There, take it away!" said the Breton hastily, "and bury it with the poor fellow."
Sergeant La Croix presented himself before the colonel with a rueful face and saluted him and said, "Colonel, I beg a thousand pardons; your dinner has been spilt--a shot from the bastion."
"No matter," said the colonel. "Give me a piece of bread instead."
La Croix went for it himself, and on his return found Cadel sitting on one side of Death's Alley, and Dard with his head bound up on the other. They had got a bottle which each put up in turn wherever he fancied the next round shot would strike, and they were betting their afternoon rations which would get the Prussians to hit the bottle first.
La Croix pulled both their ears playfully.
"Time is up for playing marbles," said he. "Be off, and play at duty," and he bundled them into the battery.
It was an hour past midnight: a cloudy night. The moon was up, but seen only by fitful gleams. A calm, peaceful silence reigned.
Dard was sentinel in the battery.
An officer going his rounds found the said sentinel flat instead of vertical. He stirred him with his scabbard, and up jumped Dard.
"It's all right, sergeant. O Lord! it's the colonel. I wasn't asleep, colonel."
"I have not accused you. But you will explain what you were doing."
"Colonel," said Dard, all in a flutter, "I was taking a squint at them, because I saw something. The beggars are building a wall, now."
"Between us and the bastion."
"I can't, colonel; the moon has gone in; but I did see it."
"How long was it?"
"About a hundred yards."
"Colonel, it was ten feet high if it was an inch."
"Have you good sight?"
"La! colonel, wasn't I a bit of a poacher before I took to the bayonet?"
"Good! Now reflect. If you persist in this statement, I turn out the brigade on your information."
"I'll stand the fire of a corporal's guard at break of day if I make a mistake now," said Dard.
The colonel glided away, called his captain and first lieutenants, and said two words in each ear, that made them spring off their backs.
Dard, marching to an fro, musket on shoulder, found himself suddenly surrounded by grim, silent, but deadly eager soldiers, that came pouring like bees into the open space behind the battery. The officers came round the colonel.
"Attend to two things," said he to the captains. "Don't fire till they are within ten yards: and don't follow them unless I lead you."
The men were then told off by companies, some to the battery, some to the trenches, some were kept on each side Death's Alley, ready for a rush.
They were not all of them in position, when those behind the parapet saw, as it were, something deepen the gloom of night, some fourscore yards to the front: it was like a line of black ink suddenly drawn upon a sheet covered with Indian ink.
It seems quite stationary. The novices wondered what it was. The veterans muttered--"Three deep."
Though it looked stationary, it got blacker and blacker. The soldiers of the 24th brigade griped their muskets hard, and set their teeth, and the sergeants had much ado to keep them quiet.
All of a sudden, a loud yell on the right of the brigade, two or three single shots from the trenches in that direction, followed by a volley, the cries of wounded men, and the fierce hurrahs of an attacking party.
Our colonel knew too well those sounds: the next parallel had been surprised, and the Prussian bayonet was now silently at work.
Disguise was now impossible. At the first shot, a guttural voice in front of Dujardin's men was heard to give a word of command. There was a sharp rattle and in a moment the thick black line was tipped with glittering steel.
A roar and a rush, and the Prussian line three deep came furiously like a huge steel-pointed wave, at the French lines. A tremendous wave of fire rushed out to meet that wave of steel: a crash of two hundred muskets, and all was still. Then you could see through the black steel-tipped line in a hundred frightful gaps, and the ground sparkled with bayonets and the air rang with the cries of the wounded.
A tremendous cheer from the brigade, and the colonel charged at the head of his column, out by Death's Alley.
The broken wall was melting away into the night. The colonel wheeled his men to the right: one company, led by the impetuous young Captain Jullien, followed the flying enemy.
The other attack had been only too successful. They shot the sentries, and bayoneted many of the soldiers in their tents: others escaped by running to the rear, and some into the next parallel.
Several, half dressed, snatched up their muskets, killed one Prussian, and fell riddled like sieves.
A gallant officer got a company together into the place of arms and formed in line.
Half the Prussian force went at them, the rest swept the trenches: the French company delivered a deadly volley, and the next moment clash the two forces crossed bayonets, and a silent deadly stabbing match was played: the final result of which was inevitable. The Prussians were five to one. The gallant officer and the poor fellows who did their duty so stoutly, had no thought left but to die hard, when suddenly a roaring cheer seemed to come from the rear rank of the enemy. "France! France!" Half the 24th brigade came leaping and swarming over the trenches in the Prussian rear. The Prussians wavered. "France!" cried the little party that were being overpowered, and charged in their turn with such fury that in two seconds the two French corps went through the enemy's centre like paper, and their very bayonets clashed together in more than one Prussian body.
Broken thus in two fragments the Prussian corps ceased to exist as a military force. The men fled each his own way back to the fort, and many flung away their muskets, for French soldiers were swarming in from all quarters. At this moment, bang! bang! bang! from the bastion.
"They are firing on my brigade," said our colonel. "Who has led his company there against my orders? Captain Neville, into the battery, and fire twenty rounds at the bastion! Aim at the flashes from their middle tier."
The battery opened with all its guns on the bastion. The right attack followed suit. The town answered, and a furious cannonade roared and blazed all down both lines till daybreak. Hell seemed broken loose.
Captain Jullien had followed the flying foe: but could not come up with them: and, as the enemy had prepared for every contingency, the fatal bastion, after first throwing a rocket or two to discover their position, poured showers of grape into them, killed many, and would have killed more but that Captain Neville and his gunners happened by mere accident to dismount one gun and to kill a couple of gunners at the others. This gave the remains of the company time to disperse and run back. When the men were mustered, Captain Jullien and twenty-five of his company did not answer to their names. At daybreak they were visible from the trenches lying all by themselves within eighty yards of the bastion.
A flag of truce came from the fort: the dead were removed on both sides and buried. Some Prussian officers strolled into the French lines. Civilities and cigars exchanged: "Bon jour," "Gooten daeg:" then at it again, ding dong all down the line blazing and roaring.
At twelve o'clock the besieged had got a man on horseback, on top of a hill, with colored flags in his hand, making signals.
"What are you up to now?" inquired Dard.
"You will see," said La Croix, affecting mystery; he knew no more than the other.
Presently off went Long Tom on the top of the bastion, and the shot came roaring over the heads of the speakers.
The flags were changed, and off went Long Tom again at an elevation.
Ten seconds had scarcely elapsed when a tremendous explosion took place on the French right. Long Tom was throwing red-hot shot; one had fallen on a powder wagon, and blown it to pieces, and killed two poor fellows and a horse, and turned an artillery man at some distance into a seeming nigger, but did him no great harm; only took him three days to get the powder out of his clothes with pipe clay, and off his face with raw potato-peel.
When the tumbril exploded, the Prussians could be heard to cheer, and they turned to and fired every iron spout they owned. Long Tom worked all day.
They got into a corner where the guns of the battery could not hit them or him, and there was his long muzzle looking towards the sky, and sending half a hundredweight of iron up into the clouds, and plunging down a mile off into the French lines.
And, at every shot, the man on horseback made signals to let the gunners know where the shot fell.
At last, about four in the afternoon, they threw a forty-eight-pound shot slap into the commander-in-chief's tent, a mile and a half behind trenches.
Down comes a glittering aide-de-camp as hard as he can gallop.
"Colonel Dujardin, what are you about, sir? Your bastion has thrown a round shot into the commander-in-chief's tent."
The colonel did not appear so staggered as the aide-de-camp expected.
"Ah, indeed!" said he quietly. "I observed they were trying distances."
"Must not happen again, colonel. You must drive them from the gun."
"Why, where is the difficulty?"
"If you will do me the honor to step into the battery, I will show you," said the colonel.
"If you please," said the aide-de-camp stiffly.
Colonel Dujardin took him to the parapet, and began, in a calm, painstaking way, to show him how and why none of his guns could be brought to bear upon Long Tom.
In the middle of the explanation a melodious sound was heard in the air above them, like a swarm of Brobdingnag bees.
"What is that?" inquired the aide-de-camp.
"What? I see nothing."
"That humming noise."
"Oh, that? Prussian bullets. Ah, by-the-by, it is a compliment to your uniform, monsieur; they take you for some one of importance. Well, as I was observing"--
"Your explanation is sufficient, colonel; let us get out of this. Ha, ha! you are a cool hand, colonel, I must say. But your battery is a warm place enough: I shall report it so at headquarters."
The grim colonel relaxed.
"Captain," said he politely, "you shall not have ridden to my post in vain. Will you lend me your horse for ten minutes?"
"Certainly; and I will inspect your trenches meantime."
"Do so; oblige me by avoiding that angle; it is exposed, and the enemy have got the range to an inch."
Colonel Dujardin slipped into his quarters; off with his half-dress jacket and his dirty boots, and presently out he came full fig, glittering brighter than the other, with one French and two foreign orders shining on his breast, mounted the aide-de-camp's horse, and away full pelt.
Admitted, after some delay, into the generalissimo's tent, Dujardin found the old gentleman surrounded by his staff and wroth: nor was the danger to which he had been exposed his sole cause of ire.
The shot had burst through his canvas, struck a table on which was a large inkstand, and had squirted the whole contents over the despatches he was writing for Paris.
Now this old gentleman prided himself upon the neatness of his despatches: a blot on his paper darkened his soul.
Colonel Dujardin expressed his profound regret. The commander, however, continued to remonstrate. "I have a great deal of writing to do," said he, "as you must be aware; and, when I am writing, I expect to be quiet."
Colonel Dujardin assented respectfully to the justice of this. He then explained at full length why he could not bring a gun in the battery to silence "Long Tom," and quietly asked to be permitted to run a gun out of the trenches, and take a shot at the offender.
"It is a point-blank distance, and I have a new gun, with which a man ought to be able to hit his own ball at three hundred yards."
The commander hesitated.
"I cannot have the men exposed."
"I engage not to lose a man--except him who fires the gun. He must take his chance."
"Well, colonel, it must be done by volunteers. The men must not be ordered out on such a service as that."
Colonel Dujardin bowed, and retired.
"Volunteers to go out of the trenches!" cried Sergeant La Croix, in a stentorian voice, standing erect as a poker, and swelling with importance.
There were fifty offers in less than as many seconds.
"Only twelve allowed to go," said the sergeant; "and I am one," added he, adroitly inserting himself.
A gun was taken down, placed on a carriage, and posted near Death's Alley, but out of the line of fire.
The colonel himself superintended the loading of this gun; and to the surprise of the men had the shot weighed first, and then weighed out the powder himself.
He then waited quietly a long time till the bastion pitched one of its periodical shots into Death's Alley, but no sooner had the shot struck, and sent the sand flying past the two lanes of curious noses, than Colonel Dujardin jumped upon the gun and waved his cocked hat. At this preconcerted signal, his battery opened fire on the bastion, and the battery to his right opened on the wall that fronted them; and the colonel gave the word to run the gun out of the trenches. They ran it out into the cloud of smoke their own guns were belching forth, unseen by the enemy; but they had no sooner twisted it into the line of Long Tom, than the smoke was gone, and there they were, a fair mark.
"Back into the trenches, all but one!" roared Dujardin.
And in they ran like rabbits.
"Quick! the elevation."
Colonel Dujardin and La Croix raised the muzzle to the mark--hoo, hoo, hoo! ping, ping, ping! came the bullets about their ears.
"Away with you!" cried the colonel, taking the linstock from him.
Then Colonel Dujardin, fifteen yards from the trenches, in full blazing uniform, showed two armies what one intrepid soldier can do. He kneeled down and adjusted his gun, just as he would have done in a practising ground. He had a pot shot to take, and a pot shot he would take. He ignored three hundred muskets that were levelled at him. He looked along his gun, adjusted it, and re-adjusted it to a hair's breadth. The enemy's bullets pattered upon it: still he adjusted it delicately. His men were groaning and tearing their hair inside at his danger.
At last it was levelled to his mind, and then his movements were as quick as they had hitherto been slow. In a moment he stood erect in the half-fencing attitude of a gunner, and his linstock at the touch-hole: a huge tongue of flame, a volume of smoke, a roar, and the iron thunderbolt was on its way, and the colonel walked haughtily but rapidly back to the trenches; for in all this no bravado. He was there to make a shot; not to throw a chance of life away watching the effect.
Ten thousand eyes did that for him.
Both French and Prussians risked their own lives craning out to see what a colonel in full uniform was doing under fire from a whole line of forts, and what would be his fate; but when he fired the gun their curiosity left the man and followed the iron thunderbolt.
For two seconds all was uncertain; the ball was travelling.
Tom gave a rear like a wild horse, his protruding muzzle went up sky-high, then was seen no more, and a ring of old iron and a clatter of fragments was heard on the top of the bastion. Long Tom was dismounted. Oh! the roar of laughter and triumph from one end to another of the trenches; and the clapping of forty thousand hands that went on for full five minutes; then the Prussians, either through a burst of generous praise for an act so chivalrous and so brilliant, or because they would not be crowed over, clapped their tea thousand hands as loudly, and thus thundering, heart-thrilling salvo of applause answered salvo on both sides that terrible arena.
That evening came a courteous and flattering message from the commander-in-chief to Colonel Dujardin; and several officers visited his quarters to look at him; they went back disappointed. The cry was, "What a miserable, melancholy dog! I expected to see a fine, dashing fellow."
The trenches neared the town. Colonel Dujardin's mine was far advanced; the end of the chamber was within a few yards of the bastion. Of late, the colonel had often visited this mine in person. He seemed a little uneasy about something in that quarter; but no one knew what: he was a silent man. The third evening, after he dismounted Long Tom, he received private notice that an order was coming down from the commander-in-chief to assault the bastion. He shrugged his shoulders, but said nothing. That same night the colonel and one of his lieutenants stole out of the trenches, and by the help of a pitch-dark, windy night, got under the bastion unperceived, and crept round it, and made their observations, and got safe back. About noon down came General Raimbaut.
"Well, colonel, you are to have your way at last. Your bastion is to be stormed this afternoon previous to the general assault. Why, how is this? you don't seem enchanted?"
"I am not."
"Why, it was you who pressed for the assault."
"At the right time, general, not the wrong. In five days I undertake to blow that bastion into the air. To assault it now would be to waste our men."
General Raimbaut thought this excess of caution a great piece of perversity in Achilles. They were alone, and he said a little peevishly,--
"Is not this to blow hot and cold on the same thing?"
"No, general," was the calm reply. "Not on the same thing. I blew hot upon timorous counsels; I blow cold on rash ones. General, last night Lieutenant Fleming and I were under that bastion; and all round it."
"Ah! my prudent colonel, I thought we should not talk long without your coming out in your true light. If ever a man secretly enjoyed risking his life, it is you."
"No, general," said Dujardin looking gloomily down; "I enjoy neither that nor anything else. Live or die, it is all one to me; but to the lives of my soldiers I am not indifferent, and never will be while I live. My apparent rashness of last night was pure prudence."
Raimbaut's eye twinkled with suppressed irony. "No doubt!" said he; "no doubt!"
The impassive colonel would not notice the other's irony; he went calmly on:--
"I suspected something; I went to confute, or confirm that suspicion. I confirmed it."
Rat! tat! tat! tat! tat! tat! tat! was heard a drum. Relieving guard in the mine.
Colonel Dujardin interrupted himself.
"That comes apropos," said he. "I expect one proof more from that quarter. Sergeant, send me the sentinel they are relieving."
Sergeant La Croix soon came back, as pompous as a hen with one chick, predominating with a grand military air over a droll figure that chattered with cold, and held its musket in hands clothed in great mittens. Dard.
La Croix marched him up as if he had been a file; halted him like a file, sang out to him as to a file, stentorian and unintelligible, after the manner of sergeants.
"Private No. 4."
LA CROIX. Advance to the word of command, and speak to the colonel.
The shivering figure became an upright statue directly, and carried one of his mittens to his forehead. Then, suddenly recognizing the rank of the gray-haired officer, he was morally shaken, but remained physically erect, and stammered,--
"Don't be frightened, my lad. But look at the general and answer me."
"Yes! general! colonel!" and he levelled his eye dead at the general, as he would a bayonet at a foe, being so commanded.
"Now answer in as few syllables as you can."
"You have been on guard in the mine."
"What did you see there?"
"Nothing; it was night down there."
"What did you feel?"
"Did you hear nothing, then?"
"Bum! bum! bum!"
"Are you sure you did not hear particles of earth fall at the end of the trench?"
"I think it did, and this (touching his musket) sounded of its own accord."
"Good! you have answered well; go."
"Sergeant, I did not miss a word," cried Dard, exulting. He thought he had passed a sort of military college examination. The sergeant was awe-struck and disgusted at his familiarity, speaking to him before the great: he pushed Private Dard hastily out of the presence, and bundled him into the trenches.
"Are you countermined, then?" asked General Raimbaut.
"I think not, general; but the whole bastion is. And we found it had been opened in the rear, and lately half a dozen broad roads cut through the masonry."
"To let in re-enforcements?"
"Or to let the men run out in ease of an assault. I have seen from the first an able hand behind that part of the defences. If we assault the bastion, they will pick off as many of us as they can with their muskets then they will run for it, and fire a train, and blow it and us into the air."
"Colonel, this is serious. Are you prepared to lay this statement before the commander-in-chief?"
"I am, and I do so through you, the general of my division. I even beg you to say, as from me, that the assault will be mere suicide-- bloody and useless."
General Raimbaut went off to headquarters in some haste, a thorough convert to Colonel Dujardin's opinion. Meantime the colonel went slowly to his tent. At the mouth of it a corporal, who was also his body-servant, met him, saluted, and asked respectfully if there were any orders.
"A few minutes' repose, Francois, that is all. Do not let me be disturbed for an hour."
"Attention!" cried Francois. "Colonel wants to sleep."
The tent was sentinelled, and Dujardin was alone with the past.
Then had the fools, that took (as fools will do) deep sorrow for sullenness, seen the fiery soldier droop, and his wan face fall into haggard lines, and his martial figure shrink, and heard his stout heart sigh! He took a letter from his bosom: it was almost worn to pieces. He had read it a thousand times, yet he read it again. A part of the sweet sad words ran thus:--
"We must bow. We can never be happy together on earth; let us make Heaven our friend. This is still left us,--not to blush for our love; to do our duty, and to die."
"How tender, but how firm," thought Camille. "I might agitate, taunt, grieve her I love, but I could not shake her. No! God and the saints to my aid! they saved me from a crime I now shudder at. And they have given me the good chaplain: he prays with me, he weeps for me. His prayers still my beating heart. Yes, poor suffering angel! I read your will in these tender, but bitter, words: you prefer duty to love. And one day you will forget me; not yet awhile, but it will be so. It wounds me when I think of it, but I must bow. Your will is sacred. I must rise to your level, not drag you to mine."
Then the soldier that had stood between two armies in a hail of bullets, and fired a master-shot, took a little book of offices in one hand,--the chaplain had given it him,--and fixed his eyes upon the pious words, and clung like a child to the pious words, and kissed his lost wife's letter, and tried hard to be like her he loved: patient, very patient, till the end should come.
"Qui vive?" cried the sentinel outside to a strange officer.
"France," was his reply. He then asked the sentinel, "Where is the colonel commanding the brigade?"
The sentinel lowered his voice, "Asleep, my officer," said he; for the new-comer carried two epaulets.
"Wake him," said the officer in a tone of a man used to command on a large scale.
Dujardin heard, and did not choose a stranger should think he was asleep in broad day. He came hastily out of the tent, therefore, with Josephine's letter in his hand, and, in the very act of conveying it to his bosom, found himself face to face with--her husband.
Did you ever see two duellists cross rapiers?
How unlike a theatrical duel! How smooth and quiet the bright blades are! they glide into contact. They are polished and slippery, yet they hold each other. So these two men's eyes met, and fastened: neither spoke: each searched the other's face keenly. Raynal's countenance, prepared as he was for this meeting, was like a stern statue's. The other's face flushed, and his heart raged and sickened at sight of the man, that, once his comrade and benefactor, was now possessor of the woman he loved. But the figures of both stood alike haughty, erect, and immovable, face to face.
Colonel Raynal saluted Colonel Dujardin ceremoniously. Colonel Dujardin returned the salute in the same style.
"You thought I was in Egypt," said Raynal with grim significance that caught Dujardin's attention, though he did not know quite how to interpret it.
He answered mechanically, "Yes, I did."
"I am sent here by General Bonaparte to take a command," explained Raynal.
"You are welcome. What command?"
"Mine?" cried Dujardin, his forehead flushing with mortification and anger. "What, is it not enough that you take my"-- He stopped then.
"Come, colonel," said the other calmly, "do not be unjust to an old comrade. I take your demi-brigade; but you are promoted to Raimbaut's brigade. The exchange is to be made to-morrow."
"Was it then to announce to me my promotion you came to my quarters?" and Camille looked with a strange mixture of feelings at his old comrade.
"That was the first thing, being duty, you know."
"What? have you anything else to say to me, then?"
"Is it important? for my own duties will soon demand me."
"It is so important that, command or no command, I should have come further than the Rhine to say it to you."
Let a man be as bold as a lion, a certain awe still waits upon doubt and mystery; and some of this vague awe crept over Camille Dujardin at Raynal's mysterious speech, and his grave, quiet, significant manner.
Had he discovered something, and what? For Josephine's sake, more than his own, Camille was on his guard directly.
Raynal looked at him in silence a moment.
"What?" said he with a slight sneer, "has it never occurred to you that I must have a serious word to say to you? First, let me put you a question: did they treat you well at my house? at the chateau de Beaurepaire?"
"Yes," faltered Camille.
"You met, I trust, all the kindness and care due to a wounded soldier and an officer of merit. It would annoy me greatly if I thought you were not treated like a brother in my house."
Colonel Dujardin writhed inwardly at this view of matters. He could not reply in few words. This made him hesitate.
His inquisitor waited, but, receiving no reply, went on, "Well, colonel, have you shown the sense of gratitude we had a right to look for in return? In a word, when you left Beaurepaire, had your conscience nothing to reproach you with?"
Dujardin still hesitated. He scarcely knew what to think or what to say. But he thought to himself, "Who has told him? does he know all?"
"Colonel Dujardin, I am the husband of Josephine, the son of Madame de Beaurepaire, and the brother of Rose. You know very well what brings me here. Your answer?"
"Colonel Raynal, between men of honor, placed as you and I are, few words should pass, for words are idle. You will never prove to me that I have wronged you: I shall never convince you that I have not. Let us therefore close this painful interview in the way it is sure to close. I am at your service, at any hour and place you please."
"And pray is that all the answer you can think of?" asked Raynal somewhat scornfully.
"Why, what other answer can I give you?"
"A more sensible, a more honest, and a less boyish one. Who doubts that you can fight, you silly fellow? haven't I seen you? I want you to show me a much higher sort of courage: the courage to repair a wrong, not the paltry valor to defend one."
"I really do not understand you, sir. How can I undo what is done?"
"Why, of course you cannot. And therefore I stand here ready to forgive all that is past; not without a struggle, which you don't seem to appreciate."
Camille was now utterly mystified. Raynal continued, "But of course it is upon condition that you consent to heal the wound you have made. If you refuse--hum! but you will not refuse."
"But what is it you require of me?" inquired Camille impatiently.
"Only a little common honesty. This is the case: you have seduced a young lady."
"Sir!" cried Camille angrily.
"What is the matter? The word is not so bad as the crime, I take it. You have seduced her, and under circumstances-- But we won't speak of them, because I am resolved to keep cool. Well, sir, as you said just now, it's no use crying over spilled milk; you can't unseduce the little fool; so you must marry her."
"M--m--marry her?" and Dujardin flushed all over, and his heart beat, and he stared in Raynal's face.
"Why, what is the matter again? If she has played the fool, it was with you, and no other man: it is not as if she was depraved. Come, my lad, show a little generosity! Take the consequences of your own act--or your share of it--don't throw it all on the poor feeble woman. If she has loved you too much, you are the man of all others that should forgive her. Come, what do you say?"
This was too much for Camille; that Raynal should come and demand of him to marry his own wife, for so he understood the proposal. He stared at Raynal in silence ever so long, and even when he spoke it was only to mutter, "Are you out of your senses, or am I?"
At this it cost Raynal a considerable effort to restrain his wrath. However, he showed himself worthy of the office he had undertaken. He contained himself, and submitted to argue the matter. "Why, colonel," said he, "is it such a misfortune to marry poor Rose? She is young, she is lovely, she has many good qualities, and she would have walked straight to the end of her days but for you."
Now here was another surprise for Dujardin, another mystification.
"Rose de Beaurepaire?" said he, putting his hand to his head, as if to see whether his reason was still there.
"Yes, Rose de Beaurepaire--Rose Dujardin that ought to be, and that is to be, if you please."
"One word, monsieur: is it of Rose we have been talking all this time?"
Raynal nearly lost his temper at this question, and the cold, contemptuous tone with which it was put; but he gulped down his ire.
"It is," said he.
"One question more. Did she tell you I had--I had"--
"Why, as to that, she was in no condition to deny she had fallen, poor girl; the evidence was too strong. She did not reveal her seducer's name; but I had not far to go for that."
"One question more," said Dujardin, with a face of anguish. "Is it Jos--is it Madame Raynal's wish I should marry her sister?"
"Why, of course," said Raynal, in all sincerity, assuming that naturally enough as a matter of course; "if you have any respect for her feelings, look on me as her envoy in this matter."
At this Camille turned sick with disgust; then rage and bitterness swelled his heart. A furious impulse seized him to expose Josephine on the spot. He overcame that, however, and merely said, "She wishes me to marry her sister, does she? very well then, I decline."
Raynal was shocked. "Oh," said he, sorrowfully, "I cannot believe this of you; such heartlessness as this is not written in your face; it is contradicted by your past actions."
"I refuse," said Dujardin, hastily; and to tell the truth, not sorry to inflict some pain on the honest soldier who had unintentionally driven the iron so deep into his own soul.
"And I," said Raynal, losing his temper, "insist, in the name of my dear Josephine"--
"Perdition!" snarled Dujardin, losing his self-command in turn.
"And of the whole family."
"And I tell you I will never marry her. Upon my honor, never."
"Your honor! you have none. The only question is would you rather marry her--or die."
"Die, to be sure."
"Then die you shall."
"Ah!" said Dujardin; "did I not tell you we were wasting time?
"Let us waste no more then. When and where?"
"At the rear of the commander-in-chief's tent; when you like."
"This afternoon, then--at five."
"You are right. They are only in the way of men who carry sabres; and besides the less gossip the better. Good-by, till five," and the two saluted one another with grim ceremony; and Raynal turned on his heel.
Camille stood transfixed; a fierce, guilty joy throbbed in his heart. His rival had quarrelled with him, had insulted him, had challenged him. It was not his fault. The sun shone bright now upon his cold despair. An hour ago life offered nothing. A few hours more, and then joy beyond expression, or an end of all. Death or Josephine! Then he remembered that this very Josephine wished to marry him to Rose. Then he remembered Raynal had saved his life. Cold chills crossed his breaking heart. Of all that could happen to him death alone seemed a blessing without alloy.
He stood there so torn with conflicting passions, that he noted neither the passing hours nor the flying bullets.
He was only awakened from his miserable trance by the even tread of soldiers marching towards him; he looked up and there were several officers coming along the edge of the trench, escorted by a corporal's guard.
He took a step or two to meet them. After the usual salutes, one of the three colonels delivered a large paper, with a large seal, to Dujardin. He read it out to his captains and lieutenants, who had assembled at sight of the cocked hats and full uniforms.
"Attack by the army to-morrow upon all the lines. Attack of the bastion St. Andre this evening. The 22d, the 24th, and 12th brigades will furnish the contingents; the operation will be conducted by one of the colonels of the second division, to be appointed by General Raimbaut."
"Aha!" sounded a voice like a trombone at the reader's elbow. "I am just in the nick of time. When, colonel, when?"
"At five this evening, Colonel Raynal."
"There," said Raynal, in a half-whisper, to Dujardin; "could they choose no hour but that?"
"Do not be uneasy," replied Dujardin, under his breath. He explained aloud--"the assault will not take place, gentlemen; the bastion is mined."
"What of that? half of them are mined. We will take our engineers in with us," said Raynal.
"Such an assault will be a useless massacre," resumed Dujardin. "I reconnoitred the bastion last night, and saw their preparations for blowing us to the devil; and General Raimbaut, at my request, is even now presenting my remarks to the commander-in-chief, and enforcing them. There will be no assault. In a day or two we shall blow the bastion, mines, and all into the air."
At this moment Raynal caught sight of a gray-haired officer coming at some distance. "There is General Raimbaut," said he. "I will go and pay my respects to him." General Raimbaut shook his hand warmly, and welcomed him to the army. They were old and warm friends. "And you are come at the right time," said he. "It will soon be as hot here as in Egypt."
Raynal laughed and said all the better.
General Raimbaut now joined the group of officers, and entered at once in the business which had brought him. Addressing himself to Colonel Dujardin, first he informs that officer he had presented his observations to the commander-in-chief, who had given them the attention they merited.
Colonel Dujardin bowed.
"But," continued General Raimbaut, "they are overruled by imperious circumstances, some of which he did not reveal; they remain in his own breast. However, on the eve of a general attack, which he cannot postpone, that bastion must be disarmed, otherwise it would be too fatal to all the storming parties. It is a painful necessity." He added, "Tell Colonel Dujardin I count greatly on the courage and discipline of his brigade, and on his own wise measures."
Colonel Dujardin bowed. Then he whispered in the other's ear, "Both will alike be wasted."
The other colonels waved their hats in triumph at the commander-in- chief's decision, and Raynal's face showed he looked on Dujardin as a sort of spoil-sport happily defeated.
"Well, then, gentlemen," said General Raimbaut, "we begin by settling the contingents to be furnished by your several brigades. Say, an equal number from each. The sum total shall be settled by Colonel Dujardin, who has so long and ably baffled the bastion at this post."
Colonel Dujardin bowed stiffly and not very graciously. In his heart he despised these old fogies, compounds of timidity and rashness.
"So, how many men in all, colonel?" asked General Raimbaut.
"The fewer the better," replied the other solemnly, "since"--and then discipline tied his tongue.
"I understand you," said the old man. "Shall we say eight hundred men?"
"I should prefer three hundred. They have made a back door to the bastion, and the means of flight at hand will put flight into their heads. They will pick off some of our men as we go at them. When the rest jump in they will jump out, and"-- He paused.
"Why, he knows all about it before it comes," said one of the colonels naively.
"I do. I see the whole operation and its result before me, as I see this hand. Three hundred men will do."
"But, general," objected Raynal, "you are not beginning at the beginning. The first thing in these cases is to choose the officer to command the storming party."
"Yes, Raynal, unquestionably; but you must be aware that is a painful and embarrassing part of my duty, especially after Colonel Dujardin's remarks."
"Ah, bah!" cried Raynal. "He is prejudiced. He has been digging a thundering long mine here, and now you are going to make his child useless. We none of us like that. But when he gets the colors in his hand, and the storming column at his back, his misgivings will all go to the wind, and the enemy after them, unless he has been committing some crime, and is very much changed from what I knew him four years ago."
"Colonel Raynal," said one of the other colonels, politely but firmly, "pray do not assume that Colonel Dujardin is to lead the column; there are three other claimants. General Raimbaut is to select from us four."
"Yes, gentlemen, and in a service of this kind I would feel grateful to you all if you would relieve me of that painful duty."
"Gentlemen," said Dujardin, with an imperceptible sneer, "the general means to say this: the operation is so glorious that he could hardly without partiality assign the command to either of us four claimants. Well, then, let us cast lots."
The proposal was received by acclamation.
"The general will mark a black cross on one lot, and he who draws it wins the command."
The young colonels prepared their lots with almost boyish eagerness. These fiery spirits were sick to death of lying and skulking in the trenches. They flung their lots into the hat. After them, who should approach the hat, lot in hand, but Raynal. Dujardin instantly interfered, and held his arm as he was in the act of dropping in his lot.
"What is the matter?" said Raynal, sharply.
"This is our affair, Colonel Raynal. You have no command in this army."
"I beg your pardon, sir, I have yours."
"Not till to-morrow."
"Why, you would not take such a pettifogging advantage of an old comrade as that."
"Tell him the day ends at twelve o'clock," said one of the colonels interested by this strange strife.
"Ah!" cried Raynal, triumphantly; "but no," said he, altering his tone, "let us leave that sort of argument to lawyers. I have come a good many miles to fight with you, general; and now you must decide to pay me this little compliment on my arrival, or put a bitter affront on me--choose!"
While the old general hesitated, Camille replied, "Since you take that tone there can be but one answer. You are too great a credit to the French army for even an apparent slight to be put on you here. The rule, I think, is, that one of the privates shall hold the hat.--Hallo! Private Dard, come here--there--hold this hat."
"Yes, colonel.--Lord, here is my young mistress's husband!"
And they began to draw, and, in the act of drawing, a change of manner was first visible in these gay and ardent spirits.
"It is not I," said one, throwing away his lot.
"It is I," said Raynal; then with sudden gravity, "I am the lucky one."
And now that the honor and the danger no longer floated vaguely over four heads, but had fixed on one, a sudden silence and solemnity took the place of eager voices.
It was first broken by Private Dard saying, with foolish triumph, "And I held the hat for you, colonel."
"Ah, Raynal!" said General Raimbaut, sorrowfully, "it was not worth while to come from Egypt for this."
Raynal made no reply to this. He drew out his watch, and said calmly, he had no time to lose; he must inspect the detachments he was to command. "Besides," said he, "I have some domestic arrangements to make. Hitherto on these occasions I was a bachelor, now I am married." General Raimbaut could not help sighing. Raynal read this aright, and turned to him, "A droll marriage, my old friend; I'll tell you all about it if ever I have the time. It began with a purchase, general, and ends with--with a bequest, which I might as well write now, and so have nothing to think of but duty afterwards. Where can I write?"
"Colonel Dujardin will lend you his tent, I am sure."
"And, messieurs," said Raynal, "if I waste time you need not. You can pick me my men from your brigades. Give me a strong spice of old hands."
The colonels withdrew on this, and General Raimbaut walked sadly and thoughtfully towards the battery. Dujardin and Raynal were left alone.
"This postpones our affair, sir."
"Have you writing materials in your tent?"
"Yes; on the table."
"You are quite sure the bastion is mined, comrade?"
This unexpected word and Raynal's gentle appeal touched Dujardin deeply. It was in a broken voice he replied that he was unfortunately too sure of it.
Raynal received this reply as a sentence of death, and without another word walked slowly into Dujardin's tent.
Dujardin's generosity was up in arms; he followed Raynal, and said eagerly, "Raynal, for Heaven's sake resign this command!"
"Allow me to write to my wife, colonel," was the cold reply.
Camille winced at this affront, and drew back a moment; but his nobler part prevailed. He seized Raynal by the wrist. "You shall not affront me, you cannot affront me. You go to certain death I tell you, if you attack that bastion."
"Don't be a fool, colonel," said Raynal: "somebody must lead the men."
"Yes; but not you. Who has so good a right to lead them as I, their colonel?"
"And be killed in my place, eh?"
"I know the ground better than you," said Camille. "Besides, who cares for me? I have no friends, no family. But you are married-- and so many will mourn if you"--
Raynal interrupted him sternly. "You forget, sir, that Rose de Beaurepaire is my sister, when you tell me you have no tie to life." He added, with wonderful dignity and sobriety, "Allow me to write to my wife, sir; and, while I write, reflect that you can embitter an old comrade's last moments by persisting in your refusal to restore his sister the honor you have robbed her of."
And leaving the other staggered and confused by this sudden blow, he retired into Dujardin's tent, and finding writing materials on a little table that was there, sat down to pen a line to Josephine.
Camille knew to whom he was writing, and a jealous pang passed through him.
What he wrote ran thus,--
"A bastion is to be attacked at five. I command. Colonel Dujardin proposed we should draw lots, and I lost. The service is honorable, but the result may, I fear, give you some pain. My dear wife, it is our fate. I was not to have time to make you know, and perhaps love me. God bless you."
In writing these simple words, Raynal's hard face worked, and his mustache quivered, and once he had to clear his eye with his hand to form the letters. He, the man of iron.
He who stood there, leaning on his scabbard and watching the writer, saw this, and it stirred all that was great and good in that grand though passionate heart of his.
"Poor Raynal!" thought he, "you were never like that before on going into action. He is loath to die. Ay, and it is a coward's trick to let him die. I shall have her, but shall I have her esteem? What will the army say? What will my conscience say? Oh! I feel already it will gnaw my heart to death; the ghost of that brave fellow--once my dear friend, my rival now, by no fault of his--will rise between her and me, and reproach me with my bloody inheritance. The heart never deceives; I feel it now whispering in my ear: 'Skulking captain, white-livered soldier, that stand behind a parapet while a better man does your work! you assassinate the husband, but the rival conquers you.' There, he puts his hand to his eyes. What shall I do?"
"Colonel," said a low voice, and at the same time a hand was laid on his shoulder.
It was General Raimbaut. The general looked pale and distressed.
"Come apart, colonel, for Heaven's sake! One word, while he is writing. Ah! that was an unlucky idea of yours."
"Of mine, general?"
"'Twas you proposed to cast lots."
"Good God! so it was."
"I thought of course it was to be managed so that Raynal should not be the one. Between ourselves, what honorable excuse can we make?"
"The whole division will be disgraced, and forgive me if I say a portion of the discredit will fall on you."
"Help me to avert that shame then," cried Camille, eagerly.
"Ah! that I will: but how?"
"Take your pencil and write--'I authorize Colonel Dujardin to save the honor of the colonels of the second division.'"
The general hesitated. He had never seen an order so worded. But at last he took out his pencil and wrote the required order, after his own fashion; i.e., in milk and water:--
On account of the singular ability and courage with which Colonel Dujardin has conducted the operations against the Bastion St. Andre, a discretionary power is given him at the moment of assault to carry into effect such measures, as, without interfering with the commander-in-chief's order, may sustain his own credit, and that of the other colonels of the second division.
RAIMBAUT, General of Division.
Camille put the paper into his bosom.
"Now, general, you may leave all to me. I swear to you, Raynal shall not die--shall not lead this assault."
"Your hand, colonel. You are an honor to the French armies. How will you do it?"
"Leave it to me, general, it shall be done."
"I feel it will, my noble fellow: but, alas! I fear not without risking some valuable life or other, most likely your own. Tell me!"
"General, I decline."
"You refuse me, sir?"
"Yes; this order gives me a discretionary power. I will hand back the order at your command; but modify it I will not. Come, sir, you veteran generals have been unjust to me, and listened to me too little all through this siege, but at last you have honored me. This order is the greatest honor that was ever done me since I wore a sword.".
"My poor colonel!"
"Let me wear it intact, and carry it to my grave."
"Say no more! One word--Is there anything on earth I can do for you, my brave soldier?"
"Yes, general. Be so kind as to retire to your quarters; there are reasons why you ought not to be near this post in half an hour."
"I go. Is there nothing else?"
"Well, general, ask the good priest Ambrose, to pray for all those who shall die doing their duty to their country this afternoon."
They parted. General Raimbaut looked back more than once at the firm, intrepid figure that stood there unflinching, on the edge of the grave. But he never took his eye off Raynal. The next minute the sad letter was finished, and Raynal walked out of the tent, and confronted the man he had challenged to single combat.
I have mentioned elsewhere that Colonel Dujardin had eyes strangely compounded of battle and love, of the dove and the hawk. And these, softened by a noble act he meditated, now rested on Raynal with a strange expression of warmth and goodness. This strange gaze struck Raynal, so far at least as this; he saw it was no hostile eye. He was glad of that, for his own heart was calmed and softened by the solemn prospect before him.
"We, too, have a little account to settle before I order out the men," said he, calmly, "and I can't give you a long credit. I am pressed for time."
"Our quarrel is at an end. When duty sounds the recall, a soldier's heart leaves private feuds. See! I come to you without anger and ill-will. Just now my voice was loud, my manner, I dare say, offensive, and menacing even, and that always tempts a brave fellow like you to resist. But now, you see, I am harmless as a woman. We are alone. Humbug to the winds! I know that you are the only man in this army fit to command a division. I know that when you say the assault of that bastion is death, death it is. To the point then; now that my manner is no longer irritating, now that I am going to die, Camille Dujardin, my old comrade, have you the heart to refuse me? am I to die unhappy?"
"No; no: I will do whatever you like."
"You will marry that poor girl, then?"
"Aha! did not I always say he was a good fellow? Clench the nail; give me your honor."
"I give you my honor to marry her, if I live."
"You take a load off me; may Heaven reward you. In one hour those poor women, whose support I had promised to be, will lose their protector; but I give them another in you. We shall not leave that family in tears, Rose in shame, and your child without a name."
Dujardin stared at the speaker. What new and devilish deception was this?
"My child!" he faltered. "What child?"
"Ah," said Raynal, "what a fool I was! That is the first thing I ought to have told you. Poor little fellow! I surprised him in his cradle; his mother and Josephine were rocking him, and singing over him. Oh! it was a scene, I can tell you. My poor wife had been ill for some time, and was so weakened by it, that I frightened her into a fit, stealing a march on her that way. She fainted away. Perhaps it is as well she did; for I--I did not know what to think; it looked ugly; but while she lay at our feet insensible, I forced the truth from Rose; she owned the boy was hers."
While Raynal told him this strange story, Camille turned hot and cold. First came a thrill of glowing joy; he had some clew to all this: he was a father; that child was Josephine's and his; the next moment he froze within. So Josephine had not only gulled her husband, but him, too; she had refused him the sad consolation of knowing he had a child. Cruelty, calculation, and baseness unexampled! Here was a creature who could sacrifice anything and anybody to her comfort, to the peace and sordid smoothness of her domestic life. She stood between two men--a thing. Between two truths--a double lie.
His heart, in one moment, turned against her like a stone. A musket-bullet through the body does not turn life to death quicker than Raynal turned his rival's love to despair and scorn: that love which neither wounds, absence, prison, nor even her want of constancy had prevailed to shake.
"Out of my bosom!" he cried--"out of it, in this world and the next!"
He forgot, in his lofty rage, who stood beside him.
"What?--what?" cried Raynal.
"No matter," said Camille; "only I esteem you, Raynal. You are truth; you are a man, and deserve a better lot."
"Don't say that," replied Raynal, quite misunderstanding him. "It is a soldier's end: I never desired nor hoped a better: only, of course, I feel sad. You are a happy fellow, to have a child and to live to see it, and her you love."
"Oh, yes, I am very happy," replied the poor fellow, his lip quivering.
"Watch over all those poor women, comrade, and sometimes speak to them of me. It is foolish, but we like to be remembered."
"Yes! but do not let us speak of that. Raynal, you and I were lieutenants together; do you remember saving my life in the Arno?"
"Then promise me, if you should live, to remember not our quarrel of to-day, nor anything; but only those early days, and this afternoon."
"Your hand, comrade."
"There, comrade, there."
They wrung one another's hands, and turned away and hid their faces from each other, for their eyes were moist.
"This won't do, comrade, I must go. I shall attack from your position. So I shall go down the line, and bring the men up. Meantime, pick me your detachment. Give me a good spice of veterans. I shall get one word with you before we go out. God bless you!"
"God bless you, Raynal!"
The moment Raynal was gone, Camille beckoned a lieutenant to him, and ordered half the brigade to form in a strong column on both sides Death's Alley.
His eye fell upon private Dard, as luck would have it. "Come here," said he. Dard came and saluted.
"Have you anybody at Beaurepaire that would be sorry if you were killed?"
"Yes, colonel! Jacintha, that used to make your broth, colonel."
"Take this line to Colonel Raynal. You will find him with the 12th brigade."
He wrote a few lines in pencil, folded them, and Dard went off with them, little dreaming that the colonel of his brigade was taking the trouble to save his life, because he came from Beaurepaire. Colonel Dujardin then went into his tent, and closed the aperture, and took the good book the priest had given him, and prayed humbly, and forgave all the world.
Then he sat down, his head in his hands, and thought of his child, and how hard it was he must die and never see him. Then he lighted a candle, and sealed up his orders of valor, and wrote a line, begging that they might be sent to his sister. He also sealed up his purse, and left a memorandum that the contents should be given to disabled soldiers of his brigade upon their being invalided.
Then he took out Josephine's letter. "Poor coward," he said, "let me not be unkind. See, I burn your letter, lest it should be found, and disturb the peace you prize so highly. I, too, shall soon be at peace." He lighted the letter, and dropped it on the ground: it burned slowly away. He eyed it, despairingly. "Ay," said he, "you perish, last record of an unhappy love: and even so pass away my life; my hopes of glory, and my dreams of love; it all ends to-day: at nine and twenty."
He put his white handkerchief to his eyes. Josephine had given it him. He cried a little.
When he had done crying, he put his white handkerchief in his bosom, and the whole man was transformed beyond language to express. Powder does not change more when it catches fire. He rose that moment and went like a flash of lightning out of the tent. The next, he came down between the lines of the strong column that stood awaiting orders in Death's Alley.
"Attention!" cried the sergeants; "the colonel!"
There was a dead silence, for the bare sight of that erect and inspired figure made the men's bosoms thrill with the certainty of great deeds to come: the light of battle was in his eye. No longer the moody colonel, but a thunderbolt of war, red-hot, and waiting to be launched.
"Officers, sergeants, soldiers, a word with you!"
La Croix. Attention!
"Do you know what passed here five minutes ago?"
"The attack of the bastion was settled!" cried a captain.
"It was; and who was to lead the assault? do you know that?"
"A colonel from Egypt."
At that there was a groan from the men.
"With detachments from the other brigades."
"AH!" an angry roar.
Colonel Dujardin walked quickly down between the two lines, looking with his fiery eye into the men's eyes on his right. Then he came back on the other side, and, as he went, he lighted those men's eyes with his own. It was a torch passing along a line of ready gas- lights.
"The work to us!" he cried in a voice like a clarion (it fired the hearts as his eye had fired the eyes)--"The triumph to strangers! Our fatigues and our losses have not gained the brigade the honor of going out at those fellows that have killed so many of our comrades."
A fierce groan broke from the men.
"What! shall the colors of another brigade and not ours fly from that bastion this afternoon?"
"No! no!" in a roar like thunder.
"Ah! you are of my mind. Attention! the attack is fixed for five o'clock. Suppose you and I were to carry the bastion ten minutes before the colonel from Egypt can bring his men upon the ground."
At this there was a fierce burst of joy and laughter; the strange laughter of veterans and born invincibles. Then a yell of exulting assent, accompanied by the thunder of impatient drums, and the rattle of fixing bayonets.
The colonel told off a party to the battery.
"Level the guns at the top tier. Fire at my signal, and keep firing over our heads, till you see our colors on the place."
He then darted to the head of the column, which instantly formed behind him in the centre of Death's Alley.
"The colors! No hand but mine shall hold them to-day."
They were instantly brought him: his left hand shook them free in the afternoon sun.
A deep murmur of joy rolled out from the old hands at the now unwonted sight. Out flashed the colonel's sword like steel lightning. He pointed to the battery.
Bang! bang! bang! bang! went his cannon, and the smoke rolled over the trenches. At the same moment up went the colors waving, and the colonel's clarion voice pealed high above all:--
They went so swiftly out of the trenches that they were not seen through their own smoke until they had run some sixty yards. As soon as they were seen, coming on like devils through their own smoke, two thousand muskets were levelled at them from the Prussian line. It was not a rattle of small arms--it was a crash, and the men fell fast: but in a moment they were seen to spread out like a fan, and to offer less mark, and when the fan closed again, it half encircled the bastion. It was a French attack: part swarmed at it in front like bees, part swept round the glacis and flanked it. They were seen to fall in numbers, shot down from the embrasures. But the living took the place of the dead: and the fight ranged evenly there. Where are the colors? Towards the rear there. The colonel and a hundred men are fighting hand to hand with the Prussians, who have charged out at the back doors of the bastion. Success there, and the bastion must fall--both sides know this.
The colors disappeared. There was a groan from the French lines. The colors reappeared, and close under the bastion.
And now in front the attack was so hot, that often the Prussian gunners were seen to jump down, driven from their posts; and the next moment a fierce hurrah from the rear told that the French had won some great advantage there. The fire slackening told a similar tale and presently down came the Prussian flag-staff. That might be an accident. A few moments of thirsting expectation, and up went the colors of the 24th brigade upon the Bastion St. Andre.
The French army raised a shout that rent the sky, and their cannon began to play on the Prussian lines and between the bastion and the nearest fort, to prevent a recapture.
Sudden there shot from the bastion a cubic acre of fire: it carried up a heavy mountain of red and black smoke that looked solid as marble. There was a heavy, sullen, tremendous explosion that snuffed out the sound of the cannon, and paralyzed the French and Prussian gunners' hands, and checked the very beating of their hearts. Thirty thousand pounds of gunpowder were in that awful explosion. War itself held its breath, and both armies, like peaceable spectators, gazed wonder-struck, terror-struck. Great hell seemed to burst through the earth's crust, and to be rushing at heaven. Huge stones, cannons, corpses, and limbs of soldiers, were seen driven or falling through the smoke. Some of these last came quite clear of the ruins, ay, into the French and Prussian lines, that even the veterans put their hands to their eyes. Raynal felt something patter on him from the sky--it was blood--a comrade's perhaps.
The smoke cleared. Where, a moment before, the great bastion stood and fought, was a monstrous pile of blackened, bloody stones and timbers, with dismounted cannon sticking up here and there.
And, rent and crushed to atoms beneath the smoking mass, lay the relics of the gallant brigade, and their victorious colors.