White Lies by Charles Reade
A few wounded soldiers of the brigade lay still till dusk. Then they crept back to the trenches. These had all been struck down or disabled short of the bastion. Of those that had taken the place no one came home.
Raynal, after the first stupefaction, pressed hard and even angrily for an immediate assault on the whole Prussian line. Not they. It was on paper that the assault should be at daybreak to-morrow. Such leaders as they were cannot improvise.
Rage and grief in his heart, Raynal waited chafing in the trenches till five minutes past midnight. He then became commander of the brigade, gave his orders, and took thirty men out to creep up to the wreck of the bastion, and find the late colonel's body.
Going for so pious a purpose, he was rewarded by an important discovery. The whole Prussian lines had been abandoned since sunset, and, mounting cautiously on the ramparts, Raynal saw the town too was evacuated, and lights and other indications on a rising ground behind it convinced him that the Prussians were in full retreat, probably to effect that junction with other forces which the assault he had recommended would have rendered impossible.
They now lighted lanterns, and searched all over and round the bastion for the poor colonel, in the rear of the bastion they found many French soldiers, most of whom had died by the bayonet. The Prussian dead had all been carried off.
Here they found the talkative Sergeant La Croix. The poor fellow was silent enough now. A terrible sabre-cut on the skull. The colonel was not there. Raynal groaned, and led the way on to the bastion. The ruins still smoked. Seven or eight bodies were discovered by an arm or a foot protruding through the masses of masonry. Of these some were Prussians; a proof that some devoted hand had fired the train, and destroyed both friend and foe.
They found the tube of Long Tom sticking up, just as he had shown over the battlements that glorious day, with this exception, that a great piece was knocked off his lip, and the slice ended in a long, broad crack.
The soldiers looked at this. "That is our bullet's work," said they. Then one old veteran touched his cap, and told Raynal gravely, he knew where their beloved colonel was. "Dig here, to the bottom," said he. "He lies beneath his work."
Improbable and superstitious as this was, the hearts of the soldiers assented to it.
Presently there was a joyful cry outside the bastion. A rush was made thither. But it proved to be only Dard, who had discovered that Sergeant La Croix's heart still beat. They took him up carefully, and carried him gently into camp. To Dard's delight the surgeon pronounced him curable. For all that, he was three days insensible, and after that unfit for duty. So they sent him home invalided, with a hundred francs out of the poor colonel's purse.
Raynal reported the evacuation of the place, and that Colonel Dujardin was buried under the bastion, and soon after rode out of the camp.
The words Camille had scratched with a pencil, and sent him from the edge of the grave, were few but striking.
"A dead man takes you once more by the hand. My last thought, thank God, is France. For her sake and mine, Raynal. Go for General Bonaparte. Tell him, from a dying soldier, the Rhine is a river to these generals, but to him a field of glory. He will lay out our lives, not waste them."
There was nothing to hinder Raynal from carrying out this sacred request: for the 24th brigade had ceased to exist: already thinned by hard service, it was reduced to a file or two by the fatal bastion. It was incorporated with the 12th; and Raynal rode heavy at heart to Paris, with a black scarf across his breast.