« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
himself bivouacing with some of the old African troops, let him get them to relate the numerous expeditions which they made under his command, and he will hear how they speak of him.
The hour of departure was come. The General was about to embark for France, and we accompanied him on board. When Martinigue, the brave pilot of Algiers, warned us that it was time to return to our boat, we all took the General by the hand, and as the swift vessel disappeared through the haze, we waved a last farewell.
If the reader should ever visit Africa, and have to cross the valley of the Upper Riou, let him not begin his journey in the month of November, the father of tempests : he would remain buried in the heavy loamy soil of the valley, converted by torrents of rain into a bed of thick mud. As for our travelling, as we were under marching orders, we had nothing to do with rain, snow, or fatigue; and in 1843, on a certain evening in this fatal month of November, we found ourselves beneath a canvass tent warming ourselves as best we could, round a hole in the earth, containing a wretched chafing dish. Large drops of rain fell on the canyass, with an abrupt sharp sound like the blow of a small stick: a monotonous melancholy sound continuing for hours and sometimes whole days together. In front of us stood our poor horses, turning their shivering cruppers to windward; a deep silence reigned throughout the bivouac, interrupted only from time to time by the energetic calls of the quarter-master for the week, or the orderly officer swearing at the stable keepers when one of the horses had broken loose, and was running about the bivouac to make himself warm.
In spite of the wind and the rain, several officers of the Zouaves had braved the storm to pay us a visit. Horse-cloths were thrown over a number of canteens, converting them into settees and arm-chairs; the blue flames flickered over a bowl of punch in honour of our guests; each drew a blackened pipe from its wooden case, and the evening commenced. “When the stomach is satisfied the head begins to sing,” says the Arab proverb. The proverb was right in this case, for each began telling in turn some of the thousand adventures of his African Odyssey. Battles, rejoicings, pastimes, coups de main, razzias, and love adventures to boot, were narrated in succession, and, what was more, listened to with attention. A word of remembrance, and expression of regret were elicited en passant by
the mention of those who, less fortunate, had fallen in the conflict; words that came from the heart; for when the name which, recorded in the papers in terms of honor to-day and forgotten to-morrow, has passed from the memory of all, it is still pronounced with emotion in the regiment—that second family of the soldier.
It was thus that we dwelt on the reminiscences of the Volontaires Parisiens and the Bataillons de la Charte, the first nucleus of the Zouaves; the storming of Constantine, and Commander Lamoriciere; and all the numberless engagements in which the Zouaves established their glorious renown. Then we spoke of Commander Peyraguay, the old hoary-headed soldier, once sergeant of the battalion of Elba, who, after surviving so many dangers, was killed at Tlemcen, face to face with the enemy, by a shot which struck him full in the chest. The present was forgotten in the past, and I well remember the religious silence with which we listened to the history of the six winter months spent by the Zouaves in 1840, in the ruined city of Medeah. “What is it then that could not be accomplished with our Zouaves ?” added the speaker; "not a mountain path in Africa but has resounded with their musket shots, not a bush but recalls some brilliant deed
of theirs. Do you remember last year, when you were returning from Milianah, we crossed each other at Caroubet-el-Ouzeri, at the entrance of the gorge near Mitidja? Well, close to that little white-crested hill where you dismounted, there took place a deed of arms, which dwelleth in the memory of all : it was there Harcourt was killed at the head of his company. Captain Bosc having too soon vacated an important position, Colonel Cavaignac was obliged to have it occupied a second time. Starting off at double quick pace, the company scaled the hill, and just as Harcourt had reached the top, a bullet penetrated his skull. The engagement was a sharp one; on one side the height was reached by a pathway, deeply ploughed into the earth by the torrents poured down it during the rainy season. Three Zouaves
-a quarter-master, a sergeant named Razin, and a native corporal, a Kabyle, had chosen this path. Just as they were on the point of reaching the summit, the old sergeant, a décoré, seeing himself outrun by the quarter-master, a younger and nimbler man, cried out, “I say, Johnny Raw, do you think you're going to pass before me ? Fall back, and make room for your senior, and be sharp about it!' The other raising his hand to his turban, and making a military salute, replied,