"Sit down, Mrsethereum coin miners. Weeks," said Alida kindly.
"Yes, I know I'm almost as bad as an oyster about talking except when I'm with you. Somehow we've always had a good deal to say to each other. In this case, I felt that it was due to Alida that she should know all about me and understand fully just how I felt concerning this marriage. The very fact that she hasn't friends to advise her made it all the more needful that I should be plain and not mislead her in any respect.--She has just as good a right to judge and act for herself as any woman in the land, and she takes me, and I take her, with no sentimental lies to start with. Now let's get back to business. I rather think, since Harkins was an old acquaintance of mine, he'll come up here and marry us, don't you? Alida, wouldn't you rather be married here quietly than face a lot of strangers? You can have your own way, I don't care now if half the town was present."solana ecosystem airdrops"Oh, yes, indeed, sir! I don't want to meet strangers--and--and--I'm not very strong yet. I thank you for considering my feelings so kindly."
"Why, that's my duty," replied the farmer. "Come, Watterly, the sun is getting low, and we've considerable to do yet before we start home.""I'm with you. Now, Alida, you go back quietly and act as if nothing had happened till I send for you. Of course this impatient young groom will hurry back with the justice as fast as possible. Still, we may not find him, or he may be so busy that we shall have to come back for you and take you to his office."As she turned to leave the room, Holcroft gave her his hand and said kindly, "Now don't you be nervous or worried. I see you are not strong, and you shall not be taxed any more than I can help. Goodby for a little while."Meantime Watterly stepped out a moment and gave his domestic a few orders; then he accompanied Holcroft to the barn, and the horses were soon attached to the market wagon. "You're in for it now, Jim, sure enough," he said laughing. "What will Angy say to it all?""Tell her that I say you've been a mighty good friend to me, yet I hope I may never return any favors of the same kind."
"By jocks! I hope not. I guess it's just as well she was away. She'll think we've acted just like two harum-scarum men, and will be awfully scandalized over your marrying this woman. Don't you feel a little nervous about it?""No! When my mind's made up, I don't worry. Nobody else need lie awake for it's my affair."Others said, "No, hang it, he is not a milk-sop: he is a triedsoldier: he is a sulky beggar all the same." Those under hisimmediate command were divided in opinion about him. There wassomething about him they could not understand. Why was his sallowface so stern, so sad? and why with all that was his voice sogentle? somehow the few words that did fall from his mouth wereprized. One old soldier used to say, "I would rather have a wordfrom our brigadier than from the commander-in-chief." Othersthought 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, orwhipped the earrings out of the Madonna's ears, or admitted thefemale enemy to quarter upon ungenerous conditions: this, or somesuch crime to which we poor soldiers are liable: and now wascommitting the mistake of remording himself about it. "Alwaysalongside the chaplain, you see!"This cold and silent man had won the heart of the most talkativesergeant in the French army. Sergeant La Croix protested with manyoaths that all the best generals of the day had commanded him inturn, and that his present colonel was the first that had succeededin inspiring him with unlimited confidence. "He knows every pointof war--this one," said La Croix, "I heard him beg and pray forleave to storm this thundering bastion before it was armed: but no,the old muffs would be wiser than our colonel. So now here we arekept at bay by a place that Julius Caesar and Cannibal wouldn't havemade two bites at apiece; no more would I if I was the old boy outthere behind the hill." In such terms do sergeants denotecommanders-in-chief--at a distance. A voluble sergeant has moreinfluence with the men than the minister of war is perhaps aware: onthe whole, the 24th brigade would have followed its gloomy colonelto grim death and a foot farther. One thing gave these men a touchof superstitious reverence for their commander. He seemed to themfree from physical weakness. He never SAT DOWN to dinner, andseemed never to sleep. At no hour of the day or night were thesentries safe from his visits.
Very annoying. But, after awhile, it led to keen watchfulness: themore so that the sad and gloomy colonel showed by his manner heappreciated it. Indeed, one night he even opened his marble jaws,and told Sergeant La Croix that a watchful sentry was an importantsoldier, not to his brigade only, but to the whole army. Judgewhether the maxim and the implied encomium did not circulate nextmorning, with additions.Sixteenth day of the siege. The round bastion opened fire at eighto'clock, not on the opposing battery, but on the right of the Frenchattack. Its advanced position enabled a portion of its guns to rakethese trenches slant-wise: and depressing its guns it made the roundshot strike the ground first and ricochet over.On this our colonel opened on them with all his guns: one of thesehe served himself. Among his other warlike accomplishments, he wasa wonderful shot with a cannon. He showed them capital practicethis morning: drove two embrasures into one, and knocked about a tonof masonry off the parapet. Then taking advantage of this, heserved two of his guns with grape, and swept the enemy off the topof the bastion, and kept it clear. He made it so hot they could notwork the upper guns. Then they turned the other two tiers all uponhim, and at it both sides went ding, dong, till the guns were toohot to be worked. So then Sergeant La Croix popped his head up fromthe battery, and showed the enemy a great white plate. This wasmeant 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 thispantomimic hint was at once taken and both sides went to dinner.The fighting colonel, however, remained in the battery, and kept adetachment of his gunners employed cooling the guns and repairingthe touch-holes. He ordered his two cutlets and his glass of waterinto the battery.
Meantime, the enemy fired a single gun at long intervals, as much asto say, "We had the last word."Let trenches be cut ever so artfully, there will be a little spaceexposed here and there at the angles. These spaces the men areordered to avoid, or whip quickly across them into cover.Now the enemy had just got the range of one of these places withtheir solitary gun, and had already dropped a couple of shot righton to it. A camp follower with a tray, two cutlets, and a glass ofwater, came to this open space just as a puff of white smoke burstfrom the bastion. Instead of instantly seeking shelter till theshot had struck, he, in his inexperience, thought the shot must havestruck, and all danger be over. He stayed there mooning instead ofpelting under cover: the shot (eighteen-pound) struck him right onthe breast, knocked him into spilikins, and sent the mutton cutletsflying.The human fragments lay quiet, ten yards off. But a soldier thatwas eating his dinner kicked it over, and jumped up at the side of"Death's Alley" (as it was christened next minute), and danced andyelled 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 thetrench to see, he had heard that horrible sound a soldier knows fromevery 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 gotthe shot itself does not say a word.""The wind of the shot, you rascal!" roared Private Dard: "lookhere!" and he showed the blood running down his face.The shot had actually driven a splinter of bone out of the sutlerinto Dard's temple."I am the unluckiest fellow in the army," remonstrated Dard: and hestamped in a circle.
"Seems to me you are only the second unluckiest this time," said ayoung soldier with his mouth full; and, with a certain dry humor, hepointed vaguely over his shoulder with the fork towards the corpse.The trenches laughed and assented.
This want of sympathy and justice irritated Dard. "You cursedfools!" cried he. "He is gone where we must all go--without anytrouble. But look at me. I am always getting barked. Dogs ofPrussians! they pick me out among a thousand. I shall have aheadache all the afternoon, you see else."Some of our heads would never have ached again: but Dard had a goodthick skull.Dard pulled out his spilikin savagely.
"I'll wrap it up in paper for Jacintha," said he. "Then that willlearn 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, whosometimes amused himself with the Breton's superstition, told himwith a grave face, that the splinter belonged not to him, but to thesutler, and, though so small, was doubtless a necessary part of hisframe."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 TOYOU FOR IT.""There, take it away!" said the Breton hastily, "and bury it withthe poor fellow."Sergeant La Croix presented himself before the colonel with a ruefulface 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 sittingon one side of Death's Alley, and Dard with his head bound up on theother. They had got a bottle which each put up in turn wherever hefancied the next round shot would strike, and they were bettingtheir afternoon rations which would get the Prussians to hit thebottle first.La Croix pulled both their ears playfully."Time is up for playing marbles," said he. "Be off, and play atduty," and he bundled them into the battery.It was an hour past midnight: a cloudy night. The moon was up, butseen 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 ofvertical. He stirred him with his scabbard, and up jumped Dard.
"It's all right, sergeant. O Lord! it's the colonel. I wasn'tasleep, 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 atthem, because I saw something. The beggars are building a wall,now.""Where?""Between us and the bastion.""Show me.""I can't, colonel; the moon has gone in; but I did see it.""How long was it?""About a hundred yards.""How high?""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 thebayonet?""Good! Now reflect. If you persist in this statement, I turn outthe brigade on your information.""I'll stand the fire of a corporal's guard at break of day if I makea 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 theirbacks.
Dard, marching to an fro, musket on shoulder, found himself suddenlysurrounded by grim, silent, but deadly eager soldiers, that camepouring like bees into the open space behind the battery. Theofficers came round the colonel."Attend to two things," said he to the captains. "Don't fire tillthey 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, someto the trenches, some were kept on each side Death's Alley, readyfor a rush.
They were not all of them in position, when those behind the parapetsaw, as it were, something deepen the gloom of night, some fourscoreyards to the front: it was like a line of black ink suddenly drawnupon a sheet covered with Indian ink.It seems quite stationary. The novices wondered what it was. Theveterans muttered--"Three deep."Though it looked stationary, it got blacker and blacker. Thesoldiers of the 24th brigade griped their muskets hard, and settheir 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 orthree single shots from the trenches in that direction, followed bya volley, the cries of wounded men, and the fierce hurrahs of anattacking party.Our colonel knew too well those sounds: the next parallel had beensurprised, and the Prussian bayonet was now silently at work.
Disguise was now impossible. At the first shot, a guttural voice infront of Dujardin's men was heard to give a word of command. Therewas a sharp rattle and in a moment the thick black line was tippedwith glittering steel.A roar and a rush, and the Prussian line three deep came furiouslylike a huge steel-pointed wave, at the French lines. A tremendouswave of fire rushed out to meet that wave of steel: a crash of twohundred muskets, and all was still. Then you could see through theblack steel-tipped line in a hundred frightful gaps, and the groundsparkled with bayonets and the air rang with the cries of thewounded.
A tremendous cheer from the brigade, and the colonel charged at thehead of his column, out by Death's Alley.The broken wall was melting away into the night. The colonelwheeled his men to the right: one company, led by the impetuousyoung Captain Jullien, followed the flying enemy.
The other attack had been only too successful. They shot thesentries, and bayoneted many of the soldiers in their tents: othersescaped by running to the rear, and some into the next parallel.Several, half dressed, snatched up their muskets, killed onePrussian, and fell riddled like sieves.
A gallant officer got a company together into the place of arms andformed in line.Half the Prussian force went at them, the rest swept the trenches:the French company delivered a deadly volley, and the next momentclash the two forces crossed bayonets, and a silent deadly stabbingmatch was played: the final result of which was inevitable. ThePrussians were five to one. The gallant officer and the poorfellows who did their duty so stoutly, had no thought left but todie hard, when suddenly a roaring cheer seemed to come from the rearrank of the enemy. "France! France!" Half the 24th brigade cameleaping and swarming over the trenches in the Prussian rear. ThePrussians wavered. "France!" cried the little party that were beingoverpowered, and charged in their turn with such fury that in twoseconds the two French corps went through the enemy's centre likepaper, and their very bayonets clashed together in more than onePrussian body.Broken thus in two fragments the Prussian corps ceased to exist as amilitary force. The men fled each his own way back to the fort, andmany flung away their muskets, for French soldiers were swarming infrom all quarters. At this moment, bang! bang! bang! from thebastion.
"They are firing on my brigade," said our colonel. "Who has led hiscompany there against my orders? Captain Neville, into the battery,and fire twenty rounds at the bastion! Aim at the flashes fromtheir middle tier.""Yes, colonel."The battery opened with all its guns on the bastion. The rightattack followed suit. The town answered, and a furious cannonaderoared and blazed all down both lines till daybreak. Hell seemedbroken loose.Captain Jullien had followed the flying foe: but could not come upwith them: and, as the enemy had prepared for every contingency, thefatal bastion, after first throwing a rocket or two to discovertheir position, poured showers of grape into them, killed many, andwould have killed more but that Captain Neville and his gunnershappened by mere accident to dismount one gun and to kill a coupleof gunners at the others. This gave the remains of the company timeto disperse and run back. When the men were mustered, CaptainJullien and twenty-five of his company did not answer to theirnames. At daybreak they were visible from the trenches lying all bythemselves within eighty yards of the bastion.
A flag of truce came from the fort: the dead were removed on bothsides and buried. Some Prussian officers strolled into the Frenchlines. 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 ofa 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 morethan the other.