« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
well-known hind foot, the only white about thoroughly before proceeding with my suryou, converted into the inkstand from which vey of the surrounding country. I now write. In truth, you were a gallant! Having brought my party to the spot we steed; and had your heart failed you in dan- | had fixed on for our bivouac and temporary ger, or your limbs in difficulties, I had not head-quarters, I dismounted, and walked been here now, to tell an old worn-out down to the stream, under whose friendly veteran's tale of a scurry for liberty and banks I contrived to keep myself closely life.
concealed, while with the aid of my glass I It was during the winter, celebrated for made good the whole of the opposite ridge. that wonderful and elaborate scheme of de- | After a pretty accurate survey, I felt tolerfence, so successfully carried out by the most ably secure, and returning to our watch-fire, skillful warrior of the age, and known to his at which my men had already begun their tory by the title of "the lines of Torres simple cookery, I received the reports of my Vedras," that my tour of duty placed me on two serjeants, and tightening the girths of the look-out, as officer commanding a caval- | “Best-of-Three," whom I bad fortunately ry picket, in the immediate vicinity of one brought with me on this arduous service, I of the enemy's outposts—a situation of toler- rode quietly away by myself, to make what able responsibility for a young soldier, and further discoveries I could as to the locality one requiring no small amount of alertness of the enemy, the disposition of the peasanand vigilance. My instructions were to reach try, and any other information I could gather, a certain point, if possible unobserved, and which might prove useful to myself, or my there to establish the head-quarters, as it commanding officer, were, of the party I commanded—to place I rode carefully along, rounding the base my vedettes in such a manner as to guard of the opposite hill, and ever keeping a wary against surprise; whilst, by means of a look-out on each side of me; but no signs of somewhat detached line of sentries, I kept human habitation, or of the presence of man, open my communications with the rear. To could I detect. Wild, rugged, and pictuthese orders were added the usual injunc-resque, the eye of the painter would have tions on all service of this description—to been enraptured at every turn of my path ; make myself as much as possible acquainted but sketching was not my object, and I was with the nature of the surrounding country-| beginning to calculate how far I must have the fords in a certain stream winding its come from my post, and to have sundry misway along my front—the bridges, if any, and givings as to whether I had sufficiently atwhether practicable for artillery, &c., &c.; tended to my orders, with regard to making for all of which details the master-mind myself acquainted with the stream, and its directing the whole of our operations ap- deep and dangerous fords, when my attenpeared to have as provident a case as though tion was suddenly arrested by a thin white its natural element were in the petty minu- line of smoke, only just visible against the tiæ of a subaltern's duty, whilst at the same brown copsewood which clothed the surface time its comprehensive grasp was capable of of a hill some two miles to my right. This, wielding the power of an allied army. I conjectured, must come from some farm
My first care, on arriving at my post, was house, hut, or cottage, and here I thought to establish myself in such a manner as to my slight knowledge of the language of the guard against surprise. I made sure that country might be advantageously brought no detached party of the enemy could occupy into play. Accordingly, I turned my horse's a position between mine and the stream to head in the direction of the line of vapor, my front; whilst I took care that the coun | and trotted briskly forward towards some try behind me should be well reconnoitred, distant inclosures, which I thought must so as to secure a retreat in the event of col surely lead me to what I now felt confident lision with a superior force, as well as for was a farm-house. These inclosures I found the first military purpose, of keeping open to consist of high and strong hedges, almost my communications. There was a wooded | impervious in any place, even to the eye, and picturesque slope to my front, on the and what we should have called in England further side of the stream I have already“ bullfinches," of the severest description. mentioned, and this I determined to examine | As I rode through the gate into one of these fields, my thoughts insensibly wandered out a cigar-case, offered him a weed, which back to merry England, and the cheering he accepted with exalted politeness, and music of the hound-to the green pastures i striking a light, proceeded to smoke, with of Yorkshire, and the quiet smile of Mary the air of a man who is perfectly satisfied Bolton, when my day-dreams were dispelied, with himself, and the position in which he and myself and horse most unequivocally is placed. Whether my sang-froid pleased startled, by the singing whistle of a ball them-and there is nothing a Frenchman adover our heads, and the sharp ringing report mires so much as that philegmatic quality, of a carbine, followed by the simultaneous in which he is himself so deficient-or appearance of three well-mounted French whether they were delighted with the courdragoons, belonging to the heaven-knows- age and agility displayed by my horse-or what regiment of hussars of the line, who whether their national chivalry of character emerged from a thicket in the corner of the induces them always to respect a prisoner as very field I was so unsuspiciously crossing, such, I know not; but I bad no reason to and came thundering towards me “ ventre complain of my treatinent. I was allowed a terre,” and blaspheming in chorus that I to ride perfectly unconstrained between the was to render myself into their hands. I “vieux capitaine" commanding, and a rusé made up my mind in a moment. The gate old serjeant-major, who had survived the bebind me led into a lane, out of which the Italian campaign, as he informed me. The fence I had remarked, though large, was captain conversed, freely and unreservedly, practicable, and wheeling “ Best-of-Three" on every topic connected with the war, insuddenly round upon his baunches, I made cluding my own capture, which had been for this outlet at the very best speed I was arranged with great tact and secresy. master of—about one stride for every two | It appears I had been seen by their senof the French hussars. Disregarding an un- tries making for the line of white smoke, certain shot from one of my new acquaint- which arose from their own watch-fires. ances, who pulled up to admioister the com- The three hussars whom I first saw had been pliment, I was coming rapidly down to the sent to intercept me ; and the shots fired at gateway, when, to my horror, a fourth hus me were to serve the double purpose of sar made his appearance through that very warning their comrades in the lane, and entrance, and slamming the gate (a new wounding myself or charger, so as to make strong piece of timber as man could wish to a certainty of my falling into their hands. see) behind him, came “sacré-ing” on in my The dragoon who had so unceremoniously very teeth, with such determination that I slammed the gate in my face, thought by saw a collision was unavoidable. He was that means to ensure my capture, after an upon me like lightning; and I had just time exciting chase round the field; and his comto draw my sword, parry his thrust, and re- rades confessed themselves much surprised turn it ineffectually, when I found we were at the appearance of “ce beau cheval" and within three strides of the now-closed gate. “monsieur le capitaine Anglais" dropping, I collected “Best-of-Three" for the effort, as if from the clouds, in the midst of them. and high as it was, he jumped it like a bird. Nothing in the olden time, not even in the Alas! alas ! only to land me in the lane, most chivalrous period of the middle ages, amidst the plaudits and braçoes of some could equal the exalted politeness with score or two of hussars, belonging to the which the adverse outposts in the Peninsula same regiment as my previous antagonists, carried on their hostilities. Instances of renow left planté in the field. There I was, ciprocal courtesy, such as invitations to dinright in the middle of them; and there was ner, interchange of provisions, and abstainnothing for it but to submit with a good ing from all useless annoyances, were of grace and a pleasant countenance. I rode daily occurrence. Sometimes the apparent up to the officer in command, a grizzled contradiction of enemies being on such terms veteran, all mustaches and chin-tuft, very was fiercely ludicrous. Witness the ghastly haggard, and very war-like, and much re message sent by a French officer of high sembling an old Scotch terrier, and handing rank to one of our most distinguished comhim my sword with a bow, I muttered some manders of cavalry, begging him (with his thing about “Fortune de la guerre," pulled compliments !) to give orders that our dragoons should have their sabres sharpened, men, bis horses, and his Emperor! gave more keenly, as several of the wounded in them his address in Paris, swore eternal the French hospitals suffered severely from brotherhood, and remained to partake of the jagged end of the weapon with which, in their simple campaigning fare. Ere be left, hand-to-hand encounters, the British soldier after making himself most agreeable, and dealt his crushing blow. Need I add the singing them “chansons" without end, in a message was received and acted upon in the most melodious voice, he again thanked them spirit in which it was sent? As for cooks, warmly for their kindness and hospitality, valuable as such officials are in a campaign, informing them that as he was under orders they were continually being sent back and to retire upon the bead-quarters of his corps exchanged, with the utmost readiness and the following day, he should leave some good will. A cook, like a surgeon, was white bread, coffee, and brandy at his presnever obliged to hurry himself or discom- ent post, for the use of his English friends; pose his chemical arrangements, as whether hoped they might some day meet without a prisoner or at large, whichever side gained holding “le sabr-r-re à la main," and took the day, he was equally certain of consider quite an affectionate leave of his entertainers. ation and good treatment.
Curiously enough, that very night, whilst A singular coincidence as regarded these my friends were discussing their visitor, and amicable hostilities came under the notice of voting him energetically a right good fellow, some officers belonging to one of our bussar they received orders to drive in the enemy's regiments, with whom I am well acquaint outpost at daybreak the following morning. ed, and who will vouch for the facts as | Those who had passed the cup from lip to they are related in the following curious lip in jovial companionship but twelve hours instance of the wild, retributive justice of ago, were now to be opposed hand-to-band war :
in mortal combat. The French out-post was My friends, a captain and subaltern, were brilliantly carried after a sharp and decisive on outpost duty, as usual, in the immediate skirmish, and my friends, on occupying the vicinity of a French picket, and from the ground previously held by the enemy, found nature of the ground and the earlier arrival | the French captain's body lying stark and of the British force, were enabled to com- stiff, actually within three paces of the small mand the only spring at which water was package of luxuries which, according to attainable for many miles, in that parched promise, had been left for the use of his enand arid country. As they sat round their tertainers of the previous evening. fire, a single French serjeant was seen ma- He was a capital swordsman, and more king his way on foot, up the hill, towards than one of our bussars had fallen to his them, and waving his hand with gestures deadly thrusts, when Serjeant Green, the evidently deprecating hostilities. He was smartest non-commissioned officer belonging allowed to approach, and asking for the offi- to my friend's troop, shot him dead through cer in command, he presented “Monsieur le the heart, without a rest, at fifteen paces, capitaine's" compliments, and begged that remarking first that the French officer aphis med might be allowed to water their peared to be " troublesome," and secondly, horses at the spring without molestation, that it was pretty fair practice for a holThis request was instantly and graciously ster-pistol.” Poor fellow! they dug his acceded to; nor was there any dereliction grave then and there, and with a soldier's of duty in so doing, as the post my friend tear and a soldier's prayer, they laid him in occupied was merely one of observation, and his lowly resting place, and my friend, with his orders were, upon no account to annoy a feeling of respect which did him honor, or hazard a rencounter with the enemy. No found time ere he pursued his march, to sooner had a courteous affirmative to his mark the spot of the gallant Frenchman's message been delivered to the French officer, last bivouac, by cutting a white cross in the than he mounted his horse, galloped up to | bark of a fine old tree, which overshadowed the little camp of English cavalry, and threw the scene of an enemy's death and a warrior's himself in the midst of them. With all the burial. volubility of his nation, he thanked them for Time slipped on, and the distinguished their politeness in the name of himself, his regiment to which my friend belonged had
ever the luck, where blows were going, to and prayed for war. Verily, this is war ; be in the thick of them. Exactly one year and they have their reward. after the skirmish I have mentioned, on that But all this time I am making my way very day twelvemonth it was his lot, as to the enemy's camp-a prisoner, certainly, major of the regiment, to reconnoitre the but, in consideration of my being disarmed, identical spot of ground which had witnessed allowed to ride perfectly at my ease. I the gallantry and death of the French offi- need not dwell on the compliments paid to cer, previous to an operation in which my horsemanship, or the admiration lav. cavalry were destined to bear an important ished on “ Best-of-Three," on my way. We part. Singularly enough, he was accom- soon reached their fires; and could I have panied only by Serjeant Green ; and readily forgotten the disagreeable fact, that I was did they recognize the scene of their bivouac no longer a free agent, and divested myself and triumph of the previous year. There of sundry misgivings as to the fate of my were the marks of the camp-fire round party, deprived of their commanding officer, which the French dragoons assembled, there I should have spent a very pleasant evening. stood the fine old tree under which their The old captain of hussars shared with me officer was buried; and Serjeant Green dis- his soup, his cigar-case, and his brandy-flask; mounted to clear away the moss and bark “ Best-of-Three” obtained more than his due from the edges of the white cross, which still portion of forage; and when at length I lay remained to mark the spot where his chir. down to rest, enveloped in my own cloak, alrous foe lay. He was in the act of remov- which had accompanied me in my advening with the point of his sword the trifling tures, I felt that although a prisoner, I was irregularities which had overgrown that em considered as much a guest as though mine blem of peace and good-will, when a shot host had been living in his own château, from a French “ tirailleur," covered by some and able to offer me all the luxuries of bushes at a hundred and fifty yards distance, baths, dressing-rooms, and toilet-tables. crashed through his brain, and, springing I lay between two French privates, whilst into the air, Serjeant Green fell on his face a sentry, pacing his short walk to and fro, & dead man.
with his eye continually glancing towards Within three hours, his comrades buried his charge, made it absurd to dream of the him in the very grave he had himself as possibility of escape. I cannot say that I sisted to dig but a year before. They laid slept much. The French officer had inhim by the French officer who had fallen formed me that he was to proceed to anby his hand. They mourned him for twen- other out-post the following morning, whilst ty-four hours, and then a corporal became a I was to be sent, horse and all, of course serjeant, and a private a corporal, “vice under sufficient escort, to the head-quarters Serjeant Green, killed in action;" and he of his regiment. These tidings, though rewas forgotten.
ceived at the time with an air of military So was it in all probability with him insouciance, weighed heavily at my heart. whose grave he shared. A comrade lost is | When should I ever see my comrades more! soon replaced. Stirring scenes and constant | Where were all my bopes of distinction danger cannot fail to blunt the natural sor- vanished Dear old England ! shall I ever row of a soldier's breast Promotion fills tread your shores again? the void, and our fallen friend is as though Such reflections as these were enough to he had never been. And now there they banish sleep; and I strove to divert my lie, side by side, the chivalrous Gaul and mind by watching the proceedings of my the sturdy Saxon, rotting in a land whose captors, their mode of relieving guard, &c., very existence need hardly have affected and their extreme vigilance and alertness, the destiny of either of them. What had though accompanied by what we should they to do with Spain,-children of merry consider somewhat slack discipline. England and sunny France,—that they Amongst other precautions, I remarked should shed their hearts' blood to enrich one that was then new to me, although I her soil ? Promotion they sought and glo- have since ascertained it was occasionally ry; for these they were content to wade adopted in our own service. A drum, through blood and slaughter; they panted | rather an unusual piece of furniture in a bivouac of cavalry, was strung as tightly I startled attention, turning one ear outward, as possible, and a bullet placed on the cen as though he recognized some familiar sound. tre of its calf-skin surface; this I learned I listened, and for an instant I thought I was the most efficient of all sentries: the recognized the note of a hound. It must foot-fall of the smallest body of men will have been fancy. Psha ! it was impossible ; create a sufficient movement in the atmo- but still my horse turned his head towards sphere to cause a vibration of the bullet, the wind, and I was sure, by his eager eye easily heard on the vellum, in its state of and distended nostril, that he, too, was aware extreme tension; and thus the alarm is of something unusual-something that, from given, whilst the advancing party is still at the force of habit, was calling up all his ensuch a distance as to defy the most acute ergies, and exciting my gallant courser to ear. In our case, all remained quiet; and, the utmost. Again I heard the well-known towards morning, I dropped into a half notes, now not to be mistaken,—the twang slumber, soon to be broken by the bustle of a horn, and the increasing music of the and preparation of a march. A cup of cof- pack running hard. My captors were soon fee, prepared by my host's own hand, a few on the qui vive, and ere five minutes had hurried words of farewell, and compliments, elapsed, the body of the hounds swept into such as none but a Frenchman would think view, accompanied by one man in scarlet appropriate at such a time, and I found and hunting.cap, whom, even at a distance, myself sitting on a French charger, weak I recognized as merry Tom Crane, huntsand under-sized, but superbly caparisoned, man to the pack of hounds which the Duke between two troopers, one of whom bestrode of Wellington then kept in the Peninsula. " Best-of-Three,” much to their mutual an- “They must bave had a capital thing," noyance. My horse had a very fine mouth, thought I, “ to be so far over the lines," or, and the Frenchman's hands were more vig. as we should say at home,“ out of their orous than sensitive. Even in my own for-country;" and then it flashed across my lorn plight, I could not help feeling foolishly mind, that now or never was the opportudistressed at seeing my favorite made so nity. My two guards, one with his hand on uncomfortable. Once or twice he reared in my wrist, were watching the sport in opena fashion that I thought must have dis- mouthed admiration and delight; the other solved the inappropriate partnership; but four soldiers were mounting their horses, his rider clung like a monkey to his mon with the hopeless idea of taking Tom Crane ture ; and so they went discordantly on, prisoner, under the impression that such a the horse fretting, champing, snatching, and piqueur would be a prize indeed. Now for sidling, whilst the equestrian sacré-ed, and it! With all my might and I could hit swore, and spurred, in thorough insecurity pretty hard in those dayg-I struck the sol. and discomfort.
dier who was not holding me a left-hander I felt quite relieved when, a little before under the ear, that, despite of shako and noon, we halted to slacken our girths, gorget, sent him down as if he had been water our horses, and rest them for an hour shot; whilst, at the same moment, I disenor two before proceeding on our march. Igaged my right hand from his comrade's took the opportunity of getting near my grasp, and sprung desperately into the sadcharger to caress him, and endeavor to dle which adorned my trusty steed. Luckimake him some amends for his previously for me, the force with which my remainannoyance. My escort consisted of a ser- | ing guard laid hold of “ Best-of-Three's rein jeant, a corporal, and four privates ; two of caused him to rear right up on end, and the latter, though with perfect civility, al- striking wildly out with his fore feet, he ways closely watching their prisoner. The disabled the arm that beld him in its grasp, idea of escape was ever in my mind; but just as two of the escort, who had already the vigilance of my two guards made such mounted, were upon his quarters. an attempt almost impossible. Suddenly, Never was a horse so quick on his legs as as I was in the act of loosening my fa- my old charger; for the first hundred yards vorite's girths—for I was politely allowed it was indeed “ touch-and-go;" the Frenchto take charge of him myself during our men having the advantage of being already halt-be raised his head in an attitude of in their stride whilst I was starting. For.