"I s'pose so," Jane replied. "When father was livin' mftx token use caseother said she kept a girl. Since then, we've visited round. But she'll learn, and if she can't, I can."
"I'm with you. Now, Alida, you go back quietly and act as if nothing had happepolkadot api npmned 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.""Well, Jim, you know how I feel about it, but I've got to say something and I might as well say it plain."
"That's the only way you ought to say it.""Well, you talked long enough to give me plenty of time to think. One thing is clear, Angy won't take to this marriage. You know I'd like to have you both come in and take a meal as you always have done, but then a man must keep peace with his wife, and--""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.Presently off went Long Tom on the top of the bastion, and the shotcame 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 tookplace on the French right. Long Tom was throwing red-hot shot; onehad fallen on a powder wagon, and blown it to pieces, and killed twopoor fellows and a horse, and turned an artillery man at somedistance into a seeming nigger, but did him no great harm; only tookhim 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 Tomworked all day.
They got into a corner where the guns of the battery could not hitthem or him, and there was his long muzzle looking towards the sky,and sending half a hundredweight of iron up into the clouds, andplunging down a mile off into the French lines.And, at every shot, the man on horseback made signals to let thegunners know where the shot fell.
At last, about four in the afternoon, they threw a forty-eight-poundshot slap into the commander-in-chief's tent, a mile and a halfbehind trenches.Down comes a glittering aide-de-camp as hard as he can gallop.
"Colonel Dujardin, what are you about, sir? YOUR BASTION has throwna round shot into the commander-in-chief's tent."The colonel did not appear so staggered as the aide-de-campexpected."Ah, indeed!" said he quietly. "I observed they were tryingdistances.""Must not happen again, colonel. You must drive them from the gun.""How?""Why, where is the difficulty?""If you will do me the honor to step into the battery, I will showyou," 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 bebrought to bear upon Long Tom.In the middle of the explanation a melodious sound was heard in theair 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 toyour 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 batteryis 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 postin 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 theenemy have got the range to an inch."Colonel Dujardin slipped into his quarters; off with his half-dressjacket and his dirty boots, and presently out he came full fig,glittering brighter than the other, with one French and two foreignorders shining on his breast, mounted the aide-de-camp's horse, andaway full pelt.
Admitted, after some delay, into the generalissimo's tent, Dujardinfound the old gentleman surrounded by his staff and wroth: nor wasthe 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 alarge inkstand, and had squirted the whole contents over thedespatches he was writing for Paris.
Now this old gentleman prided himself upon the neatness of hisdespatches: 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 writingto do," said he, "as you must be aware; and, when I am writing, Iexpect to be quiet."Colonel Dujardin assented respectfully to the justice of this. Hethen explained at full length why he could not bring a gun in thebattery to silence "Long Tom," and quietly asked to be permitted torun 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 aman 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 musttake his chance.""Well, colonel, it must be done by volunteers. The men must not beORDERED out on such a service as that."Colonel Dujardin bowed, and retired.
"Volunteers to go out of the trenches!" cried Sergeant La Croix, ina stentorian voice, standing erect as a poker, and swelling withimportance.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'sAlley, but out of the line of fire.
The colonel himself superintended the loading of this gun; and tothe surprise of the men had the shot weighed first, and then weighedout the powder himself.He then waited quietly a long time till the bastion pitched one ofits periodical shots into Death's Alley, but no sooner had the shotstruck, and sent the sand flying past the two lanes of curiousnoses, than Colonel Dujardin jumped upon the gun and waved hiscocked hat. At this preconcerted signal, his battery opened fire onthe bastion, and the battery to his right opened on the wall thatfronted them; and the colonel gave the word to run the gun out ofthe trenches. They ran it out into the cloud of smoke their ownguns were belching forth, unseen by the enemy; but they had nosooner twisted it into the line of Long Tom, than the smoke wasgone, and there they were, a fair mark.