The Great Shadow and Other Napoleonic Tales
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 2 out of 3
he said at last.
"No, it would be well to have a Parliament back in Edinburgh," said my
father; "but I am kept so busy with the sheep that I have little enough
time to think of such things."
"It is for fine young men like you two to think of it," said de Lapp.
"When a country is injured, it is to its young men that it looks to
"Aye! the English take too much upon themselves sometimes," said Jim.
"Well, if there are many of that way of thinking about, why should we
not form them into battalions and march them upon London?" cried de
"That would be a rare little picnic," said I, laughing. "And who would
He jumped up, bowing, with his hand on his heart, in his queer fashion.
"If you will allow me to have the honour!" he cried; and then seeing
that we were all laughing, he began to laugh also, but I am sure that
there was really no thought of a joke in his mind.
I could never make out what his age could be, nor could Jim Horscroft
either. Sometimes we thought that he was an oldish man that looked
young, and at others that he was a youngish man who looked old. His
brown, stiff, close-cropped hair needed no cropping at the top, where it
thinned away to a shining curve. His skin too was intersected by a
thousand fine wrinkles, lacing and interlacing, and was all burned, as I
have already said, by the sun. Yet he was as lithe as a boy, and he was
as tough as whalebone, walking all day over the hills or rowing on the
sea without turning a hair. On the whole we thought that he might be
about forty or forty-five, though it was hard to see how he could have
seen so much of life in the time. But one day we got talking of ages,
and then he surprised us.
I had been saying that I was just twenty, and Jim said that he was
"Then I am the most old of the three," said de Lapp.
We laughed at this, for by our reckoning he might almost have been
"But not by so much," said he, arching his brows. "I was
nine-and-twenty in December."
And it was this even more than his talk which made us understand what an
extraordinary life it must have been that he had led. He saw our
astonishment, and laughed at it.
"I have lived! I have lived!" he cried. "I have spent my days and my
nights. I led a company in a battle where five nations were engaged
when I was but fourteen. I made a king turn pale at the words I
whispered in his ear when I was twenty. I had a hand in remaking a
kingdom and putting a fresh king upon a great throne the very year that
I came of age. _Mon Dieu_, I have lived my life!"
That was the most that I ever heard him confess of his past life, and he
only shook his head and laughed when we tried to get something more out
of him. There were times when we thought that he was but a clever
impostor; for what could a man of such influence and talents be
loitering here in Berwickshire for? But one day there came an incident
which showed us that he had indeed a history in the past.
You will remember that there was an old officer of the Peninsula who
lived no great way from us, the same who danced round the bonfire with
his sister and the two maids. He had gone up to London on some business
about his pension and his wound money, and the chance of having some
work given him, so that he did not come back until late in the autumn.
One of the first days after his return he came down to see us, and there
for the first time he clapped eyes upon de Lapp. Never in my life did I
look upon so astonished a face, and he stared at our friend for a long
minute without so much as a word. De Lapp looked back at him equally
hard, but there was no recognition in his eyes.
"I do not know who you are, sir," he said at last; "but you look at me
as if you had seen me before."
"So I have," answered the Major.
"Never to my knowledge."
"But I'll swear it!"
"At the village of Astorga, in the year '8."
De Lapp started, and stared again at our neighbour.
"_Mon Dieu_, what a chance!" he cried. "And you were the English
parlementaire? I remember you very well indeed, sir. Let me have a
whisper in your ear."
He took him aside and talked very earnestly with him in French for a
quarter of an hour, gesticulating with his hands, and explaining
something, while the Major nodded his old grizzled head from time to
time. At last they seemed to come to some agreement, and I heard the
Major say "_Parole a'honneur_" several times, and afterwards "_Fortune
de la guerre_," which I could very well understand, for they gave you a
fine upbringing at Birtwhistle's. But after that I always noticed that
the Major never used the same free fashion of speech that we did towards
our lodger, but bowed when he addressed him, and treated him with a
wonderful deal of respect. I asked the Major more than once what he
knew about him, but he always put it off, and I could get no answer out
Jim Horscroft was at home all that summer, but late in the autumn he
went back to Edinburgh again for the winter session, and as he intended
to work very hard and get his degree next spring if he could, he said
that he would bide up there for the Christmas. So there was a great
leave-taking between him and Cousin Edie; and he was to put up his plate
and to marry her as soon as he had the right to practise. I never knew
a man love a woman more fondly than he did her, and she liked him well
enough in a way--for, indeed, in the whole of Scotland she would not
find a finer looking man--but when it came to marriage, I think she
winced a little at the thought that all her wonderful dreams should end
in nothing more than in being the wife of a country surgeon. Still
there was only me and Jim to choose out of, and she took the best of us.
Of course there was de Lapp also; but we always felt that he was of an
altogether different class to us, and so he didn't count. I was never
very sure at that time whether Edie cared for him or not. When Jim was
at home they took little notice of each other. After he was gone they
were thrown more together, which was natural enough, as he had taken up
so much of her time before. Once or twice she spoke to me about de Lapp
as though she did not like him, and yet she was uneasy if he were not in
in the evening; and there was no one so fond of his talk, or with so
many questions to ask him, as she. She made him describe what queens
wore, and what sort of carpets they walked on, and whether they had
hairpins in their hair, and how many feathers they had in their hats,
until it was a wonder to me how he could find an answer to it all.
And yet an answer he always had; and was so ready and quick with his
tongue, and so anxious to amuse her, that I wondered how it was that she
did not like him better.
Well, the summer and the autumn and the best part of the winter passed
away, and we were still all very happy together. We got well into the
year 1815, and the great Emperor was still eating his heart out at Elba;
and all the ambassadors were wrangling together at Vienna as to what
they should do with the lion's skin, now that they had so fairly hunted
him down. And we in our little corner of Europe went on with our petty
peaceful business, looking after the sheep, attending the Berwick cattle
fairs, and chatting at night round the blazing peat fire. We never
thought that what all these high and mighty people were doing could have
any bearing upon us; and as to war, why everybody was agreed that the
great shadow was lifted from us for ever, and that, unless the Allies
quarrelled among themselves, there would not be a shot fired in Europe
for another fifty years.
There was one incident, however, that stands out very clearly in my
memory. I think that it must have happened about the February of this
year, and I will tell it to you before I go any further.
You know what the border peel castles are like, I have no doubt.
They were just square heaps built every here and there along the line,
so that the folk might have some place of protection against raiders and
mosstroopers. When Percy and his men were over the Marches, then the
people would drive some of their cattle into the yard of the tower, shut
up the big gate, and light a fire in the brazier at the top, which would
be answered by all the other Peel towers, until the lights would go
twinkling up to the Lammermuir Hills, and so carry the news on to the
Pentlands and to Edinburgh. But now, of course, all these old keeps
were warped and crumbling, and made fine nesting places for the wild
birds. Many a good egg have I had for my collection out of the
Corriemuir Peel Tower.
One day I had been a very long walk, away over to leave a message at the
Laidlaw Armstrongs, who live two miles on this side of Ayton.
About five o'clock, just before the sun set, I found myself on the brae
path with the gable end of West Inch peeping up in front of me and the
old Peel tower lying on my left. I turned my eyes on the keep, for it
looked so fine with the flush of the level sun beating full upon it and
the blue sea stretching out behind; and as I stared, I suddenly saw the
face of a man twinkle for a moment in one of the holes in the wall.
Well I stood and wondered over this, for what could anybody be doing in
such a place now that it was too early for the nesting season? It was
so queer that I was determined to come to the bottom of it; so, tired as
I was, I turned my shoulder on home, and walked swiftly towards the
tower. The grass stretches right up to the very base of the wall, and
my feet made little noise until I reached the crumbling arch where the
old gate used to be. I peeped through, and there was Bonaventure de
Lapp standing inside the keep, and peeping out through the very hole at
which I had seen his face. He was turned half away from me, and it was
clear that he had not seen me at all, for he was staring with all his
eyes over in the direction of West Inch. As I advanced my foot rattled
the rubble that lay in the gateway, and he turned round with a start and
He was not a man whom you could put out of countenance, and his face
changed no more than if he had been expecting me there for a
twelvemonth; but there was something in his eyes which let me know that
he would have paid a good price to have me back on the brae path again.
"Hullo!" said I, "what are you doing here?"
"I may ask you that," said he.
"I came up because I saw your face at the window."
"And I because, as you may well have observed, I have very much interest
for all that has to do with the military, and, of course, castles are
among them. You will excuse me for one moment, my dear Jack."
And he stepped out suddenly through the hole in the wall, so as to be
out of my sight.
But I was very much too curious to excuse him so easily. I shifted my
ground swiftly to see what it was that he was after. He was standing
outside, and waving his hand frantically, as in a signal.
"What are you doing?" I cried; and then, running out to his side, I
looked across the moors to see whom he was beckoning to.
"You go too far, sir," said he, angrily; "I didn't thought you would
have gone so far. A gentleman has the freedom to act as he choose
without your being the spy upon him. If we are to be friends, you must
not interfere in my affairs."
"I don't like these secret doings," said I, "and my father would not
like them either."
"Your father can speak for himself, and there is no secret," said he,
curtly. "It is you with your imaginings that make a secret. Ta, ta,
ta! I have no patience with such foolishness."
And without as much as a nod, he turned his back upon me, and started
walking swiftly to West Inch.
Well, I followed him, and in the worst of tempers; for I had a feeling
that there was some mischief in the wind, and yet I could not for the
life of me think what it all meant. Again I found myself puzzling over
the whole mystery of this man's coming, and of his long residence among
us. And whom could he have expected to meet at the Peel Tower? Was the
fellow a spy, and was it some brother spy who came to speak with him
there? But that was absurd. What could there be to spy about in
Berwickshire? And besides, Major Elliott knew all about him, and he
would not show him such respect if there were anything amiss.
I had just got as far as this in my thoughts when I heard a cheery hail,
and there was the Major himself coming down the hill from his house,
with his big bulldog Bounder held in leash. This dog was a savage
creature, and had caused more than one accident on the countryside; but
the Major was very fond of it, and would never go out without it, though
he kept it tied with a good thick thong of leather. Well, just as I was
looking at the Major, waiting for him to come up, he stumbled with his
lame leg over a branch of gorse, and in recovering himself he let go his
hold of the leash, and in an instant there was the beast of a dog flying
down the hillside in my direction.
I did not like it, I can tell you; for there was neither stick nor stone
about, and I knew that the brute was dangerous. The Major was shrieking
to it from behind, and I think that the creature thought that he was
hallooing it on, so furiously did it rush. But I knew its name, and I
thought that maybe that might give me the privileges of
acquaintanceship; so as it came at me with bristling hair and its nose
screwed back between its two red eyes, I cried out "Bounder! Bounder!"
at the pitch of my lungs. It had its effect, for the beast passed me
with a snarl, and flew along the path on the traces of Bonaventure de
He turned at the shouting, and seemed to take in the whole thing at a
glance; but he strolled along as slowly as ever. My heart was in my
mouth for him, for the dog had never seen him before; and I ran as fast
as my feet would carry me to drag it away from him. But somehow, as it
bounded up and saw the twittering finger and thumb which de Lapp held
out behind him, its fury died suddenly away, and we saw it wagging its
thumb of a tail and clawing at his knee.
"Your dog then, Major?" said he, as its owner came hobbling up. "Ah, it
is a fine beast--a fine, pretty thing!"
The Major was blowing hard, for he had covered the ground nearly as fast
"I was afraid lest he might have hurt you," he panted.
"Ta, ta, ta!" cried de Lapp. "He is a pretty, gentle thing; I always
love the dogs. But I am glad that I have met you, Major; for here is
this young gentleman, to whom I owe very much, who has begun to think
that I am a spy. Is it not so, Jack?"
I was so taken aback by his words that I could not lay my tongue to an
answer, but coloured up and looked askance, like the awkward country lad
that I was.
"You know me, Major," said de Lapp, "and I am sure that you will tell
him that this could not be."
"No, no, Jack! Certainly not! certainly not!" cried the Major.
"Thank you," said de Lapp. "You know me, and you do me justice. And
yourself, I hope that your knee is better, and that you will soon have
your regiment given you."
"I am well enough," answered the Major; "but they will never give me a
place unless there is war, and there will be no more war in my time."
"Oh, you think that!" said de Lapp with a smile. "Well, _nous
verrons!_ We shall see, my friend!"
He whisked off his hat, and turning briskly he walked off in the
direction of West Inch. The Major stood looking after him with
thoughtful eyes, and then asked me what it was that had made me think
that he was a spy. When I told him he said nothing, but he shook his
head, and looked like a man who was ill at ease in his mind.
THE COMING OF THE CUTTER.
I never felt quite the same to our lodger after that little business at
the Peel Castle. It was always in my mind that he was holding a secret
from me--indeed, that he was all a secret together, seeing that he
always hung a veil over his past. And when by chance that veil was for
an instant whisked away, we always caught just a glimpse of something
bloody and violent and dreadful upon the other side. The very look of
his body was terrible. I bathed with him once in the summer, and I saw
then that he was haggled with wounds all over. Besides seven or eight
scars and slashes, his ribs on one side were all twisted out of shape,
and a part of one of his calves had been torn away. He laughed in his
merry way when he saw my face of wonder.
"Cossacks! Cossacks!" said he, running his hand over his scars.
"And the ribs were broke by an artillery tumbril. It is very bad to
have the guns pass over one. Now with cavalry it is nothing. A horse
will pick its steps however fast it may go. I have been ridden over by
fifteen hundred cuirassiers A and by the Russian hussars of Grodno, and
I had no harm from that. But guns are very bad."
"And the calf?" I asked.
"_Pouf!_ It is only a wolf bite," said he. "You would not think how I
came by it! You will understand that my horse and I had been struck,
the horse killed, and I with my ribs broken by the tumbril. Well, it
was cold--oh, bitter, bitter!--the ground like iron, and no one to help
the wounded, so that they froze into such shapes as would make you
smile. I too felt that I was freezing, so what did I do? I took my
sword, and I opened my dead horse, so well as I could, and I made space
in him for me to lie, with one little hole for my mouth. _Sapristi!_ It
was warm enough there. But there was not room for the entire of me, so
my feet and part of my legs stuck out. Then in the night, when I slept,
there came the wolves to eat the horse, and they had a little pinch of
me also, as you can see; but after that I was on guard with my pistols,
and they had no more of me. There I lived, very warm and nice, for ten
"Ten days!" I cried. "What did you eat?"
"Why, I ate the horse. It was what you call board and lodging to me.
But of course I have sense to eat the legs, and live in the body. There
were many dead about who had all their water bottles, so I had all I
could wish. And on the eleventh day there came a patrol of light
cavalry, and all was well."
It was by such chance chats as these--hardly worth repeating in
themselves--that there came light upon himself and his past. But the
day was coming when we should know all; and how it came I shall try now
to tell you.
The winter had been a dreary one, but with March came the first signs of
spring, and for a week on end we had sunshine and winds from the south.
On the 7th Jim Horscroft was to come back from Edinburgh; for though the
session ended with the 1st, his examination would take him a week.
Edie and I were out walking on the sea beach on the 6th, and I could
talk of nothing but my old friend--for, indeed, he was the only friend
of my own age that I had at that time. Edie was very silent, which was
a rare thing with her; but she listened smiling to all that I had to
"Poor old Jim!" said she once or twice under her breath. "Poor old
"And if he has passed," said I, "why, then of course he will put up his
plate and have his own house, and we shall be losing our Edie."
I tried to make a jest of it and to speak lightly, but the words still
stuck in my throat.
"Poor old Jim!" said she again, and there were tears in her eyes as she
said it. "And poor old Jock!" she added, slipping her hand into mine as
we walked. "You cared for me a little bit once also, didn't you, Jock?
Oh, is not that a sweet little ship out yonder!"
It was a dainty cutter of about thirty tons, very swift by the rake of
her masts and the lines of her bow. She was coming up from the south
under jib, foresail, and mainsail; but even as we watched her all her
white canvas shut suddenly in, like a kittiwake closing her wings, and
we saw the splash of her anchor just under her bowsprit. She may have
been rather less than a quarter of a mile from the shore--so near that I
could see a tall man with a peaked cap, who stood at the quarter with a
telescope to his eye, sweeping it backwards and forwards along the
"What can they want here?" asked Edie.
"They are rich English from London," said I; for that was how we
explained everything that was above our comprehension in the border
counties. We stood for the best part of an hour watching the bonny
craft, and then, as the sun was lying low on a cloudbank and there was a
nip in the evening air, we turned back to West Inch.
As you come to the farmhouse from the front, you pass up a garden, with
little enough in it, which leads out by a wicket-gate to the road; the
same gate at which we stood on the night when the beacons were lit, the
night that we saw Walter Scott ride past on his way to Edinburgh.
On the right of this gate, on the garden side, was a bit of a rockery
which was said to have been made by my father's mother many years
before. She had fashioned it out of water-worn stones and sea shells,
with mosses and ferns in the chinks. Well, as we came in through the
gates my eyes fell upon this stone heap, and there was a letter stuck in
a cleft stick upon the top of it. I took a step forward to see what it
was, but Edie sprang in front of me, and plucking it off she thrust it
into her pocket.
"That's for me," said she, laughing. But I stood looking at her with a
face which drove the laugh from her lips.
"Who is it from, Edie?" I asked.
She pouted, but made no answer.
"Who is it from, woman?" I cried. "Is it possible that you have been as
false to Jim as you were to me?"
"How rude you are, Jock!" she cried. "I do wish that you would mind
your own business."
"There is only one person that it could be from," I cried. "It is from
this man de Lapp!"
"And suppose that you are right, Jock?"
The coolness of the woman amazed and enraged me.
"You confess it!" I cried. "Have you, then, no shame left?"
"Why should I not receive letters from this gentleman?"
"Because it is infamous."
"Because he is a stranger."
"On the contrary," said she, "he is my husband!"
THE DOINGS AT WEST INCH.
I can remember that moment so well. I have heard from others that a
great, sudden blow has dulled their senses. It was not so with me.
On the contrary, I saw and heard and thought more clearly than I had
ever done before. I can remember that my eyes caught a little knob of
marble as broad as my palm, which was imbedded in one of the grey stones
of the rockery, and I found time to admire its delicate mottling.
And yet the look upon my face must have been strange, for Cousin Edie
screamed, and leaving me she ran off to the house. I followed her and
tapped at the window of her room, for I could see that she was there.
"Go away, Jock, go away!" she cried. "You are going to scold me!
I won't be scolded! I won't open the window! Go away!"
But I continued to tap.
"I must have a word with you!"
"What is it, then?" she cried, raising the sash about three inches.
"The moment you begin to scold I shall close it."
"Are you really married, Edie?"
"Yes, I am married."
"Who married you?"
"Father Brennan, at the Roman Catholic Chapel at Berwick."
"And you a Presbyterian?"
"He wished it to be in a Catholic Church."
"When was it?"
"On Wednesday week."
I remembered then that on that day she had driven over to Berwick, while
de Lapp had been away on a long walk, as he said, among the hills.
"What about Jim?" I asked.
"Oh, Jim will forgive me!"
"You will break his heart and ruin his life."
"No, no; he will forgive me."
"He will murder de Lapp! Oh, Edie, how could you bring such disgrace
and misery upon us?"
"Ah, now you are scolding!" she cried, and down came the window.
I waited some little time, and tapped, for I had much still to ask her;
but she would return no answer, and I thought that I could hear her
sobbing. At last I gave it up; and I was about to go into the house,
for it was nearly dark now, when I heard the click of the garden gate.
It was de Lapp himself.
But as he came up the path he seemed to me to be either mad or drunk.
He danced as he walked, cracked his fingers in the air, and his eyes
blazed like two will-o'-the-wisps. "_Voltigeurs!_" he shouted;
"_Voltigeurs de la Garde!_" just as he had done when he was off his
head; and then suddenly, "_En avant! en avant!_" and up he came, waving
his walking-cane over his head. He stopped short when he saw me looking
at him, and I daresay he felt a bit ashamed of himself.
"Hola, Jock!" he cried. "I didn't thought anybody was there. I am in
what you call the high spirits to-night."
"So it seems!" said I, in my blunt fashion. "You may not feel so merry
when my friend Jim Horscroft comes back to-morrow."
"Ah! he comes back to-morrow, does he? And why should I not feel merry?
"Because, if I know the man, he will kill you."
"Ta, ta, ta!" cried de Lapp. "I see that you know of our marriage.
Edie has told you. Jim may do what he likes."
"You have given us a nice return for having taken you in."
"My good fellow," said he, "I have, as you say, given you a very nice
return. I have taken Edie from a life which is unworthy of her, and I
have connected you by marriage with a noble family. However, I have
some letters which I must write to-night, and the rest we can talk over
to-morrow, when your friend Jim is here to help us."
He stepped towards the door.
"And this was whom you were awaiting at the peel tower!" I cried, seeing
"Why, Jock, you are becoming quite sharp," said he, in a mocking tone;
and an instant later I heard the door of his room close and the key turn
in the lock.
I thought that I should see him no more that night; but a few minutes
later he came into the kitchen, where I was sitting with the old folk.
"Madame," said he, bowing down with his hand over his heart, in his own
queer fashion, "I have met with much kindness in your hands, and it
shall always be in my heart. I didn't thought I could have been so
happy in the quiet country as you have made me. You will accept this
small souvenir; and you also, sir, you will take this little gift,
which I have the honour to make to you."
He put two little paper packets down upon the table at their elbows, and
then, with three more bows to my mother, he walked from the room.
Her present was a brooch, with a green stone set in the middle and a
dozen little shining white ones all round it. We had never seen such
things before, and did not know how to set a name to them; but they told
us afterwards at Berwick that the big one was an emerald and the others
were diamonds, and that they were worth much more than all the lambs we
had that spring. My dear old mother has been gone now this many a year,
but that bonny brooch sparkles at the neck of my eldest daughter when
she goes out into company; and I never look at it that I do not see the
keen eyes and the long thin nose and the cat's whiskers of our lodger at
West Inch. As to my father, he had a fine gold watch with a double
case; and a proud man was he as he sat with it in the palm of his hand,
his ear stooping to hearken to the tick. I do not know which was best
pleased, and they would talk of nothing but what de Lapp had given them.
"He's given you something more," said I at last.
"What then, Jock?" asked father.
"A husband for Cousin Edie," said I.
They thought I was daffing when I said that; but when they came to
understand that it was the real truth, they were as proud and as pleased
as if I had told them that she had married the laird. Indeed, poor Jim,
with his hard drinking and his fighting, had not a very bright name on
the country-side, and my mother had often said that no good could come
of such a match. Now, de Lapp was, for all we knew, steady and quiet
and well-to-do. And as to the secrecy of it, secret marriages were very
common in Scotland at that time, when only a few words were needed to
make man and wife, so nobody thought much of that. The old folk were as
pleased, then, as if their rent had been lowered; but I was still sore
at heart, for it seemed to me that my friend had been cruelly dealt
with, and I knew well that he was not a man who would easily put up with
THE RETURN OF THE SHADOW.
I woke with a heavy heart the next morning, for I knew that Jim would be
home before long, and that it would be a day of trouble. But how much
trouble that day was to bring, or how far it would alter the lives of
us, was more than I had ever thought in my darkest moments. But let me
tell you it all, just in the order that it happened.
I had to get up early that morning; for it was just the first flush of
the lambing, and my father and I were out on the moors as soon as it was
fairly light. As I came out into the passage a wind struck upon my
face, and there was the house door wide open, and the grey light drawing
another door upon the inner wall. And when I looked again there was
Edie's room open also, and de Lapp's too; and I saw in a flash what that
giving of presents meant upon the evening before. It was a
leave-taking, and they were gone.
My heart was bitter against Cousin Edie as I stood looking into her
room. To think that for the sake of a newcomer she could leave us all
without one kindly word, or as much as a hand-shake. And he, too!
I had been afraid of what would happen when Jim met him; but now there
seemed to be something cowardly in this avoidance of him. I was angry
and hurt and sore, and I went out into the open without a word to my
father, and climbed up on to the moors to cool my flushed face.
When I got up to Corriemuir I caught my last glimpse of Cousin Edie.
The little cutter still lay where she had anchored, but a rowboat was
pulling out to her from the shore. In the stern I saw a flutter of red,
and I knew that it came from her shawl. I watched the boat reach the
yacht and the folk climb on to her deck. Then the anchor came up, the
white wings spread once more, and away she dipped right out to sea.
I still saw that little red spot on the deck, and de Lapp standing
beside her. They could see me also, for I was outlined against the sky,
and they both waved their hands for a long time, but gave it up at last
when they found that I would give them no answer.
I stood with my arms folded, feeling as glum as ever I did in my life,
until their cutter was only a square hickering patch of white among the
mists of the morning. It was breakfast time and the porridge upon the
table before I got back, but I had no heart for the food. The old folk
had taken the matter coolly enough, though my mother had no word too
hard for Edie; for the two had never had much love for each other, and
less of late than ever.
"There's a letter here from him," said my father, pointing to a note
folded up on the table; "it was in his room. Maybe you would read it to
They had not even opened it; for, truth to tell, neither of the good
folk were very clever at reading ink, though they could do well with a
fine large print.
It was addressed in big letters to "The good people of West Inch;" and
this was the note, which lies before me all stained and faded as I
I didn't thought to have left you so suddenly, but the matter was
in other hands than mine. Duty and honour have called me back to my
old comrades. This you will doubtless understand before many days
are past. I take your Edie with me as my wife; and it may be that
in some more peaceful time you will see us again at West Inch.
Meanwhile, accept the assurance of my affection, and believe me that
I shall never forget the quiet months which I spent with you, at the
time when my life would have been worth a week at the utmost had I
been taken by the Allies. But the reason of this you may also learn
"BONAVENTURE DE LISSAC"
"(Colonel des Voltigeurs de la Garde, et
aide-de-camp de S.M.I. L'Empereur Napoleon.")
I whistled when I came to those words written under his name; for though
I had long made up my mind that our lodger could be none other than one
of those wonderful soldiers of whom we had heard so much, who had forced
their way into every capital of Europe, save only our own, still I had
little thought that our roof covered Napoleon's own aide-de-camp and a
colonel of his Guard.
"So," said I, "de Lissac is his name, and not de Lapp. Well, colonel or
no, it is as well for him that he got away from here before Jim laid
hands upon him. And time enough, too," I added, peeping out at the
kitchen window, "for here is the man himself coming through the garden."
I ran to the door to meet him, feeling that I would have given a deal to
have him back in Edinburgh again. He came running, waving a paper over
his head; and I thought that maybe he had a note from Edie, and that it
was all known to him. But as he came up I saw that it was a big, stiff,
yellow paper which crackled as he waved it, and that his eyes were
dancing with happiness.
"Hurrah, Jock!" he shouted. "Where is Edie? Where is Edie?"
"What is it, man?" I asked.
"Where is Edie?"
"What have you there?"
"It's my diploma, Jock. I can practise when I like. It's all right.
I want to show it to Edie."
"The best you can do is to forget all about Edie," said I.
Never have I seen a man's face change as his did when I said those
"What! What d'ye mean, Jock Calder?" he stammered.
He let go his hold of the precious diploma as he spoke, and away it went
over the hedge and across the moor, where it stuck flapping on a
whin-bush; but he never so much as glanced at it. His eyes were bent
upon me, and I saw the devil's spark glimmer up in the depths of them.
"She is not worthy of you," said I.
He gripped me by the shoulder.
"What have you done?" he whispered. "This is some of your
hanky-panky! Where is she?"
"She's off with that Frenchman who lodged here."
I had been casting about in my mind how I could break it gently to him;
but I was always backward in speech, and I could think of nothing better
"Oh!" said he, and stood nodding his head and looking at me, though I
knew very well that he could neither see me, nor the steading, nor
anything else. So he stood for a minute or more, with his hands
clenched and his head still nodding. Then he gave a gulp in his throat,
and spoke in a queer dry, rasping voice.
"When was this?" said he.
"Were they married?"
He put his hand against the door-post to steady himself.
"Any message for me?"
"She said that you would forgive her."
"May God blast my soul on the day I do! Where have they gone to?"
"To France, I should judge."
"His name was de Lapp, I think?"
"His real name is de Lissac; and he is no less than a colonel in Boney's
"Ah! he would be in Paris, likely. That is well! That is well!"
"Hold up!" I shouted. "Father! Father! Bring the brandy!"
His knees had given way for an instant, but he was himself again before
the old man came running with the bottle.
"Take it away!" said he.
"Have a soop, Mister Horscroft," cried my father, pressing it upon him.
"It will give you fresh heart!"
He caught hold of the bottle and sent it flying over the garden hedge.
"It's very good for those who wish to forget," said he; "I am going to
"May God forgive you for sinfu' waste!" cried my father aloud.
"And for well-nigh braining an officer of his Majesty's infantry!" said
old Major Elliott, putting his head over the hedge. "I could have done
with a nip after a morning's walk, but it is something new to have a
whole bottle whizz past my ear. But what is amiss, that you all stand
round like mutes at a burying?"
In a few words I told him our trouble, while Jim, with a grey face and
his brows drawn down, stood leaning against the door-post. The Major
was as glum as we by the time I had finished, for he was fond both of
Jim and of Edie.
"Tut, tut!" said he. "I feared something of the kind ever since that
business of the peel tower. It's the way with the French. They can't
leave the women alone. But, at least, de Lissac has married her, and
that's a comfort. But it's no time now to think of our own little
troubles, with all Europe in a roar again, and another twenty years' war
before us, as like as not."
"What d'ye mean?" I asked.
"Why, man, Napoleon's back from Elba, his troops have flocked to him,
and Louis has run for his life. The news was in Berwick this morning."
"Great Lord!" cried my father. "Then the weary business is all to do
"Aye, we thought we were out from the shadow, but it's still there.
Wellington is ordered from Vienna to the Low Countries, and it is
thought that the Emperor will break out first on that side. Well, it's
a bad wind that blows nobody any good. I've just had news that I am to
join the 71st as senior major."
I shook hands with our good neighbour on this, for I knew how it had
lain upon his mind that he should be a cripple, with no part to play in
"I am to join my regiment as soon as I can; and we shall be over yonder
in a month, and in Paris, maybe, before another one is over."
"By the Lord, then, I'm with you, Major!" cried Jim Horscroft. "I'm not
too proud to carry a musket, if you will put me in front of this
"My lad, I'd be proud to have you serve under me," said the Major. "And
as to de Lissac, where the Emperor is he will be."
"You know the man," said I. "What can you tell us of him?"
"There is no better officer in the French army, and that is a big word
to say. They say that he would have been a marshal, but he preferred to
stay at the Emperor's elbow. I met him two days before Corunna, when I
was sent with a flag to speak about our wounded. He was with Soult
then. I knew him again when I saw him."
"And I will know him again when I see him!" said Horscroft, with the old
dour look on his face.
And then at that instant, as I stood there, it was suddenly driven home
to me how poor and purposeless a life I should lead while this crippled
friend of ours and the companion of my boyhood were away in the
forefront of the storm. Quick as a flash my resolution was taken.
"I'll come with you too, Major," I cried.
"Jock! Jock!" said my father, wringing his hands.
Jim said nothing, but put his arm half round me and hugged me.
The Major's eyes shone and he flourished his cane in the air.
"My word, but I shall have two good recruits at my heels," said he.
"Well, there's no time to be lost, so you must both be ready for the
And this was what a single day brought about; and yet years pass away so
often without a change. Just think of the alteration in that
four-and-twenty hours. De Lissac was gone. Edie was gone. Napoleon
had escaped. War had broken out. Jim Horscroft had lost everything,
and he and I were setting out to fight against the French. It was all
like a dream, until I tramped off to the coach that evening, and looked
back at the grey farm steading and at the two little dark figures: my
mother with her face sunk in her Shetland shawl, and my father waving
his drover's stick to hearten me upon my way.
THE GATHERING OF THE NATIONS.
And now I come to a bit of my story that clean takes my breath away as I
think of it, and makes me wish that I had never taken the job of telling
it in hand. For when I write I like things to come slow and orderly and
in their turn, like sheep coming out of a paddock. So it was at West
Inch. But now that we were drawn into a larger life, like wee bits of
straw that float slowly down some lazy ditch, until they suddenly find
themselves in the dash and swirl of a great river; then it is very hard
for me with my simple words to keep pace with it all. But you can find
the cause and reason of everything in the books about history, and so I
shall just leave that alone and talk about what I saw with my own eyes
and heard with my own ears.
The regiment to which our friend had been appointed was the 71st
Highland Light Infantry, which wore the red coat and the trews, and had
its depot in Glasgow town. There we went, all three, by coach: the
Major in great spirits and full of stories about the Duke and the
Peninsula, while Jim sat in the corner with his lips set and his arms
folded, and I knew that he killed de Lissac three times an hour in his
heart. I could tell it by the sudden glint of his eyes and grip of his
hand. As to me, I did not know whether to be glad or sorry; for home is
home, and it is a weary thing, however you may brazen it out, to feel
that half Scotland is between you and your mother.
We were in Glasgow next day, and the Major took us down to the depot,
where a soldier with three stripes on his arm and a fistful of ribbons
from his cap, showed every tooth he had in his head at the sight of Jim,
and walked three times round him to have the view of him, as if he had
been Carlisle Castle. Then he came over to me and punched me in the
ribs and felt my muscle, and was nigh as pleased as with Jim.
"These are the sort, Major, these are the sort," he kept saying.
"With a thousand of these we could stand up to Boney's best."
"How do they run?" asked the Major.
"A poor show," said he, "but they may lick into shape. The best men
have been drafted to America, and we are full of Militiamen and
"Tut, tut!" said the Major. "We'll have old soldiers and good ones
against us. Come to me if you need any help, you two."
And so with a nod he left us, and we began to understand that a Major
who is your officer is a very different person from a Major who happens
to be your neighbour in the country.
Well, well, why should I trouble you with these things? I could wear
out a good quill-pen just writing about what we did, Jim and I, at the
depot in Glasgow; and how we came to know our officers and our comrades,
and how they came to know us. Soon came the news that the folk of
Vienna, who had been cutting up Europe as if it had been a jigget of
mutton, had flown back, each to his own country, and that every man and
horse in their armies had their faces towards France. We heard of great
reviews and musterings in Paris too, and then that Wellington was in the
Low Countries, and that on us and on the Prussians would fall the first
blow. The Government was shipping men over to him as fast as they
could, and every port along the east coast was choked with guns and
horses and stores. On the third of June we had our marching orders
also, and on the same night we took ship from Leith, reaching Ostend the
night after. It was my first sight of a foreign land, and indeed most
of my comrades were the same, for we were very young in the ranks. I
can see the blue waters now, and the curling surf line, and the long
yellow beach, and queer windmills twisting and turning--a thing that a
man would not see from one end of Scotland to the other. It was a
clean, well-kept town, but the folk were undersized, and there was
neither ale nor oatmeal cakes to be bought amongst them.
From there we went on to a place called Bruges; and from there to Ghent,
where we picked up with the 52nd and the 95th, which were the two
regiments that we were brigaded with. It's a wonderful place for
churches and stonework is Ghent, and indeed of all the towns we were in
there was scarce one but had a finer kirk than any in Glasgow.
From there we pushed on to Ath, which is a little village on a river, or
a burn rather, called the Dender. There we were quartered--in tents
mostly, for it was fine sunny weather--and the whole brigade set to work
at its drill from morning till evening. General Adams was our chief,
and Reynell was our colonel, and they were both fine old soldiers; but
what put heart into us most was to think that we were under the Duke,
for his name was like a bugle call. He was at Brussels with the bulk of
the army, but we knew that we should see him quick enough if he were
I had never seen so many English together, and indeed I had a kind of
contempt for them, as folk always have if they live near a border.
But the two regiments that were with us now were as good comrades as
could be wished. The 52nd had a thousand men in the ranks, and there
were many old soldiers of the Peninsula among them. They came from
Oxfordshire for the most part. The 95th were a rifle regiment, and had
dark green coats instead of red. It was strange to see them loading,
for they would put the ball into a greasy rag and then hammer it down
with a mallet, but they could fire both further and straighter than we.
All that part of Belgium was covered with British troops at that time;
for the Guards were over near Enghien, and there were cavalry regiments
on the further side of us. You see, it was very necessary that
Wellington should spread out all his force, for Boney was behind the
screen of his fortresses, and of course we had no means of saying on
what side he might pop out, except that he was pretty sure to come the
way that we least expected him. On the one side he might get between us
and the sea, and so cut us off from England; and on the other he might
shove in between the Prussians and ourselves. But the Duke was as
clever as he, for he had his horse and his light troops all round him,
like a great spider's web, so that the moment a French foot stepped
across the border he could close up all his men at the right place.
For myself, I was very happy at Ath, and I found the folk very kindly
and homely. There was a farmer of the name of Bois, in whose fields we
were quartered, and who was a real good friend to many of us. We built
him a wooden barn among us in our spare time, and many a time I and Jeb
Seaton, my rear-rank man, have hung out his washing, for the smell of
the wet linen seemed to take us both straight home as nothing else could
do. I have often wondered whether that good man and his wife are still
living, though I think it hardly likely, for they were of a hale
middle-age at the time. Jim would come with us too, sometimes, and
would sit with us smoking in the big Flemish kitchen, but he was a
different Jim now to the old one. He had always had a hard touch in
him, but now his trouble seemed to have turned him to flint, and I never
saw a smile upon his face, and seldom heard a word from his lips.
His whole mind was set on revenging himself upon de Lissac for having
taken Edie from him, and he would sit for hours with his chin upon his
hands glaring and frowning, all wrapped in the one idea. This made him
a bit of a butt among the men at first, and they laughed at him for it;
but when they came to know him better they found that he was not a good
man to laugh at, and then they dropped it.
We were early risers at that time, and the whole brigade was usually
under arms at the flush of dawn. One morning--it was the sixteenth of
June--we had just formed up, and General Adams had ridden up to give
some order to Colonel Reynell within a musket-length of where I stood,
when suddenly they both stood staring along the Brussels road. None of
us dared move our heads, but every eye in the regiment whisked round,
and there we saw an officer with the cockade of a general's aide-de-camp
thundering down the road as hard as a great dapple-grey horse could
carry him. He bent his face over its mane and flogged at its neck with
the slack of the bridle, as though he rode for very life.
"Hullo, Reynell!" says the general. "This begins to look like business.
What do you make of it?"
They both cantered their horses forward, and Adams tore open the
dispatch which the messenger handed to him. The wrapper had not touched
the ground before he turned, waving the letter over his head as if it
had been a sabre.
"Dismiss!" he cried. "General parade and march in half-an-hour."
Then in an instant all was buzz and bustle, and the news on every lip.
Napoleon had crossed the frontier the day before, had pushed the
Prussians before him, and was already deep in the country to the east of
us with a hundred and fifty thousand men. Away we scuttled to gather
our things together and have our breakfast, and in an hour we had
marched off and left Ath and the Dender behind us for ever. There was
good need for haste, for the Prussians had sent no news to Wellington of
what was doing, and though he had rushed from Brussels at the first
whisper of it, like a good old mastiff from its kennel, it was hard to
see how he could come up in time to help the Prussians.
It was a bright warm morning, and as the brigade tramped down the broad
Belgian road the dust rolled up from it like the smoke of a battery.
I tell you that we blessed the man that planted the poplars along the
sides, for their shadow was better than drink to us. Over across the
fields, both to the right and the left, were other roads, one quite
close, and the other a mile or more from us. A column of infantry was
marching down the near one, and it was a fair race between us, for we
were each walking for all we were worth. There was such a wreath of
dust round them that we could only see the gun-barrels and the bearskins
breaking out here and there, with the head and shoulders of a mounted
officer coming out above the cloud, and the flutter of the colours.
It was a brigade of the Guards, but we could not tell which, for we had
two of them with us in the campaign. On the far road there was also
dust and to spare, but through it there flashed every now and then a
long twinkle of brightness, like a hundred silver beads threaded in a
line; and the breeze brought down such a snarling, clanging, clashing
kind of music as I had never listened to. If I had been left to myself
it would have been long before I knew what it was; but our corporals and
sergeants were all old soldiers, and I had one trudging along with his
halbert at my elbow, who was full of precept and advice.
"That's heavy horse," said he. "You see that double twinkle?
That means they have helmet as well as cuirass. It's the Royals, or the
Enniskillens, or the Household. You can hear their cymbals and kettles.
The French heavies are too good for us. They have ten to our one, and
good men too. You've got to shoot at their faces or else at their
horses. Mind you that when you see them coming, or else you'll find a
four-foot sword stuck through your liver to teach you better. Hark!
Hark! Hark! There's the old music again!"
And as he spoke there came the low grumbling of a cannonade away
somewhere to the east of us, deep and hoarse, like the roar of some
blood-daubed beast that thrives on the lives of men. At the same
instant there was a shouting of "Heh! heh! heh!" from behind, and
somebody roared, "Let the guns get through!" Looking back, I saw the
rear companies split suddenly in two and hurl themselves down on either
side into the ditch, while six cream-coloured horses, galloping two and
two with their bellies to the ground, came thundering through the gap
with a fine twelve-pound gun whirling and creaking behind them.
Behind were another, and another, four-and-twenty in all, flying past us
with such a din and clatter, the blue-coated men clinging on to the gun
and the tumbrils, the drivers cursing and cracking their whips, the
manes flying, the mops and buckets clanking, and the whole air filled
with the heavy rumble and the jingling of chains. There was a roar from
the ditches, and a shout from the gunners, and we saw a rolling grey
cloud before us, with a score of busbies breaking through the shadow.
Then we closed up again, while the growling ahead of us grew louder and
deeper than ever.
"There's three batteries there," said the sergeant. "There's Bull's and
Webber Smith's, but the other is new. There's some more on ahead of us,
for here is the track of a nine-pounder, and the others were all
twelves. Choose a twelve if you want to get hit; for a nine mashes you
up, but a twelve snaps you like a carrot." And then he went on to tell
about the dreadful wounds that he had seen, until my blood ran like iced
water in my veins, and you might have rubbed all our faces in pipeclay
and we should have been no whiter. "Aye, you'll look sicklier yet, when
you get a hatful of grape into your tripes," said he.
And then, as I saw some of the old soldiers laughing, I began to
understand that this man was trying to frighten us; so I began to laugh
also, and the others as well, but it was not a very hearty laugh either.
The sun was almost above us when we stopped at a little place called
Hal, where there is an old pump from which I drew and drank a shako
full of water--and never did a mug of Scotch ale taste as sweet.
More guns passed us here, and Vivian's Hussars, three regiments of
them, smart men with bonny brown horses, a treat to the eye. The noise
of the cannons was louder than ever now, and it tingled through my
nerves just as it had done years before, when, with Edie by my side, I
had seen the merchant-ship fight with the privateers. It was so loud
now that it seemed to me that the battle must be going on just beyond
the nearest wood, but my friend the sergeant knew better.
"It's twelve to fifteen mile off," said he. "You may be sure the
general knows we are not wanted, or we should not be resting here at
What he said proved to be true, for a minute later down came the colonel
with orders that we should pile arms and bivouac where we were; and
there we stayed all day, while horse and foot and guns, English, Dutch,
and Hanoverians, were streaming through. The devil's music went on till
evening, sometimes rising into a roar, sometimes sinking into a grumble,
until about eight o'clock in the evening it stopped altogether. We were
eating our hearts out, as you may think, to know what it all meant, but
we knew that what the Duke did would be for the best, so we just waited
Next day the brigade remained at Hal in the morning, but about mid-day
came an orderly from the Duke, and we pushed on once more until we came
to a little village called Braine something, and there we stopped; and
time too, for a sudden thunderstorm broke over us, and a plump of rain
that turned all the roads and the fields into bog and mire. We got into
the barns at this village for shelter, and there we found two
stragglers--one from a kilted regiment, and the other a man of the
German Legion, who had a tale to tell that was as dreary as the weather.
Boney had thrashed the Prussians the day before, and our fellows had
been sore put to it to hold their own against Ney, but had beaten him
off at last. It seems an old stale story to you now, but you cannot
think how we scrambled round those two men in the barn, and pushed and
fought, just to catch a word of what they said, and how those who had
heard were in turn mobbed by those who had not. We laughed and cheered
and groaned all in turn as we heard how the 44th had received cavalry in
line, how the Dutch-Belgians had fled, and how the Black Watch had taken
the Lancers into their square, and then had killed them at their
leisure. But the Lancers had had the laugh on their side when they
crumpled up the 69th and carried off one of the colours. To wind it all
up, the Duke was in retreat in order to keep in touch with the
Prussians, and it was rumoured that he would take up his ground and
fight a big battle just at the very place where we had been halted.
And soon we saw that this rumour was true; for the weather cleared
towards evening, and we were all out on the ridge to see what we could
see. It was such a bonny stretch of corn and grazing land, with the
crops just half green and half yellow, and fine rye as high as a man's
shoulder. A scene more full of peace you could not think of, and look
where you would over the low curving corn-covered hills, you could see
the little village steeples pricking up their spires among the poplars.
But slashed right across this pretty picture was a long trail of
marching men--some red, some green, some blue, some black--zigzagging
over the plain and choking the roads, one end so close that we could
shout to them, as they stacked their muskets on the ridge at our left,
and the other end lost among the woods as far as we could see. And then
on other roads we saw the teams of horses toiling and the dull gleam of
the guns, and the men straining and swaying as they helped to turn the
spokes in the deep, deep mud. As we stood there, regiment after
regiment and brigade after brigade took position on the ridge, and ere
the sun had set we lay in a line of over sixty thousand men, blocking
Napoleon's way to Brussels. But the rain had come swishing down again,
and we of the 71st rushed off to our barn once more, where we had better
quarters than the greater part of our comrades, who lay stretched in the
mud with the storm beating upon them until the first peep of day.
THE SHADOW ON THE LAND.
It was still drizzling in the morning, with brown drifting clouds and a
damp chilly wind. It was a queer thing for me as I opened my eyes to
think that I should be in a battle that day, though none of us ever
thought it would be such a one as it proved to be. We were up and
ready, however, with the first light, and as we threw open the doors of
our barn we heard the most lovely music that I had ever listened to
playing somewhere in the distance. We all stood in clusters hearkening
to it, it was so sweet and innocent and sad-like. But our sergeant
laughed when he saw how it pleased us all.
"Them are the French bands," said he; "and if you come out here you'll
see what some of you may not live to see again."
Out we went, the beautiful music still sounding in our ears, and stood
on a rise just outside the barn. Down below at the bottom of the slope,
about half a musket-shot from us, was a snug tiled farm with a hedge and
a bit of an apple orchard. All round it a line of men in red coats and
high fur hats were working like bees, knocking holes in the wall and
barring up the doors.
"Them's the light companies of the Guards," said the sergeant. "They'll
hold that farm while one of them can wag a finger. But look over yonder
and you'll see the camp fires of the French."
We looked across the valley at the low ridge upon the further side, and
saw a thousand little yellow points of flame with the dark smoke
wreathing up in the heavy air. There was another farm-house on the
further side of the valley, and as we looked we suddenly saw a little
group of horsemen appear on a knoll beside it and stare across at us.
There were a dozen Hussars behind, and in front five men, three with
helmets, one with a long straight red feather in his hat, and the last
with a low cap.
"By God!" cried the sergeant, "that's him! That's Boney, the one with
the grey horse. Aye, I'll lay a month's pay on it."
I strained my eyes to see him, this man who had cast that great shadow
over Europe, which darkened the nations for five-and-twenty years, and
which had even fallen across our out-of-the-world little sheep-farm, and
had dragged us all--myself, Edie, and Jim--out of the lives that our
folk had lived before us. As far as I could see, he was a dumpy
square-shouldered kind of man, and he held his double glasses to his
eyes with his elbows spread very wide out on each side. I was still
staring when I heard the catch of a man's breath by my side, and there
was Jim with his eyes glowing like two coals, and his face thrust over
"That's he, Jock," he whispered.
"Yes, that's Boney," said I.
"No, no, it's he. This de Lapp or de Lissac, or whatever his devil's
name is. It is he."
Then I saw him at once. It was the horseman with the high red feather
in his hat. Even at that distance I could have sworn to the slope of
his shoulders and the way he carried his head. I clapped my hands upon
Jim's sleeve, for I could see that his blood was boiling at the sight of
the man, and that he was ready for any madness. But at that moment
Bonaparte seemed to lean over and say something to de Lissac, and the
party wheeled and dashed away, while there came the bang of a gun and a
white spray of smoke from a battery along the ridge. At the same
instant the assembly was blown in our village, and we rushed for our
arms and fell in. There was a burst of firing all along the line, and
we thought that the battle had begun; but it came really from our
fellows cleaning their pieces, for their priming was in some danger of
being wet from the damp night.
From where we stood it was a sight now that was worth coming over the
seas to see. On our own ridge was the chequer of red and blue
stretching right away to a village over two miles from us. It was
whispered from man to man in the ranks, however, that there was too much
of the blue and too little of the red; for the Belgians had shown on the
day before that their hearts were too soft for the work, and we had
twenty thousand of them for comrades. Then, even our British troops
were half made up of militiamen and recruits; for the pick of the old
Peninsular regiments were on the ocean in transports, coming back from
some fool's quarrel with our kinsfolk of America. But for all that we
could see the bearskins of the Guards, two strong brigades of them, and
the bonnets of the Highlanders, and the blue of the old German Legion,
and the red lines of Pack's brigade, and Kempt's brigade and the green
dotted riflemen in front, and we knew that come what might these were
men who would bide where they were placed, and that they had a man to
lead them who would place them where they should bide.
Of the French we had seen little save the twinkle of their fires, and a
few horsemen here and there upon the curves of the ridge; but as we
stood and waited there came suddenly a grand blare from their bands, and
their whole army came flooding over the low hill which had hid them,
brigade after brigade and division after division, until the broad slope
in its whole length and depth was blue with their uniforms and bright
with the glint of their weapons. It seemed that they would never have
done, still pouring over and pouring over, while our men leaned on their
muskets and smoked their pipes looking down at this grand gathering and
listening to what the old soldiers who had fought the French before had
to say about them. Then when the infantry had formed in long deep
masses their guns came whirling and bounding down the slope, and it was
pretty to see how smartly they unlimbered and were ready for action.
And then at a stately trot down came the cavalry, thirty regiments at
the least, with plume and breastplate, twinkling sword and fluttering
lance, forming up at the flanks and rear, in long shifting, glimmering
"Them's the chaps!" cried our old sergeant. "They're gluttons to fight,
they are. And you see them regiments with the great high hats in the
middle, a bit behind the farm? That's the Guard, twenty thousand of
them, my sons, and all picked men--grey-headed devils that have done
nothing but fight since they were as high as my gaiters. They've three
men to our two, and two guns to our one, and, by God! they'll make you
recruities wish you were back in Argyle Street before they have finished
He was not a cheering man, our sergeant; but then he had been in every
fight since Corunna, and had a medal with seven clasps upon his breast,
so that he had a right to talk in his own fashion.
When the Frenchmen had all arranged themselves just out of cannon-shot
we saw a small group of horsemen, all in a blaze with silver and scarlet
and gold, ride swiftly between the divisions, and as they went a roar of
cheering burst out from either side of them, and we could see arms
outstretched to them and hands waving. An instant later the noise had
died away, and the two armies stood facing each other in absolute deadly
silence--a sight which often comes back to me in my dreams. Then, of a
sudden, there was a lurch among the men just in front of us; a thin
column wheeled off from the dense blue clump, and came swinging up
towards the farm-house which lay below us. It had not taken fifty paces
before a gun banged out from an English battery on our left, and the
battle of Waterloo had begun.
It is not for me to try to tell you the story of that battle, and,
indeed, I should have kept far enough away from such a thing had it not
happened that our own fates, those of the three simple folk who came
from the border country, were all just as much mixed up in it as those
of any king or emperor of them all. To tell the honest truth, I have
learned more about that battle from what I have read than from what I
saw, for how much could I see with a comrade on either side, and a great
white cloud-bank at the very end of my firelock? It was from books and
the talk of others that I learned how the heavy cavalry charged, how
they rode over the famous cuirassiers, and how they were cut to pieces
before they could get back. From them, too, I learned all about the
successive assaults, and how the Belgians fled, and how Pack and Kempt
stood firm. But of my own knowledge I can only speak of what we saw
during that long day in the rifts of the smoke and the lulls of the
firing, and it is just of that that I will tell you.
We were on the right of the line and in reserve, for the Duke was afraid
that Boney might work round on that side and get at him from behind; so
our three regiments, with another British brigade and the Hanoverians,
were placed there to be ready for anything. There were two brigades of
light cavalry, too; but the French attack was all from the front, so it
was late in the day before we were really wanted.
The English battery which fired the first gun was still banging away on
our left, and a German one was hard at work upon our right, so that we
were wrapped round with the smoke; but we were not so hidden as to
screen us from a line of French guns opposite, for a score of round shot
came piping through the air and plumped right into the heart of us.
As I heard the scream of them past my ear my head went down like a
diver, but our sergeant gave me a prod in the back with the handle of
"Don't be so blasted polite," said he; "when you're hit, you can bow
once and for all."
There was one of those balls that knocked five men into a bloody mash,
and I saw it lying on the ground afterwards like a crimson football.
Another went through the adjutant's horse with a plop like a stone in
the mud, broke its back and left it lying like a burst gooseberry.
Three more fell further to the right, and by the stir and cries we could
tell that they had all told.
"Ah! James, you've lost a good mount," says Major Reed, just in front of
me, looking down at the adjutant, whose boots and breeches were all
running with blood.
"I gave a cool fifty for him in Glasgow," said the other. "Don't you
think, major, that the men had better lie down now that the guns have
got our range?"
"Tut!" said the other; "they are young, James, and it will do them
"They'll get enough of it before the day's done," grumbled the other;
but at that moment Colonel Reynell saw that the Rifles and the 52nd were
down on either side of us, so we had the order to stretch ourselves out
too. Precious glad we were when we could hear the shot whining like
hungry dogs within a few feet of our backs. Even now a thud and a
splash every minute or so, with a yelp of pain and a drumming of boots
upon the ground, told us that we were still losing heavily.
A thin rain was falling and the damp air held the smoke low, so that we
could only catch glimpses of what was doing just in front of us, though
the roar of the guns told us that the battle was general all along the
lines. Four hundred of them were all crashing at once now, and the
noise was enough to split the drum of your ear. Indeed, there was not
one of us but had a singing in his head for many a long day afterwards.
Just opposite us on the slope of the hill was a French gun, and we could
see the men serving her quite plainly. They were small active men, with
very tight breeches and high hats with great straight plumes sticking up
from them; but they worked like sheep-shearers, ramming and sponging and
training. There were fourteen when I saw them first, and only four left
standing at the last, but they were working away just as hard as ever.
The farm that they called Hougoumont was down in front of us, and all
the morning we could see that a terrible fight was going on there, for
the walls and the windows and the orchard hedges were all flame and
smoke, and there rose such shrieking and crying from it as I never heard
before. It was half burned down, and shattered with balls, and ten
thousand men were hammering at the gates; but four hundred guardsmen
held it in the morning and two hundred held it in the evening, and no
French foot was ever set within its threshold. But how they fought,
those Frenchmen! Their lives were no more to them than the mud under
their feet. There was one--I can see him now--a stoutish ruddy man on a
crutch. He hobbled up alone in a lull of the firing to the side gate of
Hougoumont and he beat upon it, screaming to his men to come after him.
For five minutes he stood there, strolling about in front of the
gun-barrels which spared him, but at last a Brunswick skirmisher in the
orchard flicked out his brains with a rifle shot. And he was only one
of many, for all day when they did not come in masses they came in twos
and threes with as brave a face as if the whole army were at their
So we lay all morning, looking down at the fight at Hougoumont; but soon
the Duke saw that there was nothing to fear upon his right, and so he
began to use us in another way.
The French had pushed their skirmishers past the farm, and they lay
among the young corn in front of us popping at the gunners, so that
three pieces out of six on our left were lying with their men strewed in
the mud all round them. But the Duke had his eyes everywhere, and up he
galloped at that moment--a thin, dark, wiry man with very bright eyes, a
hooked nose, and big cockade on his cap. There were a dozen officers at
his heels, all as merry as if it were a foxhunt, but of the dozen there
was not one left in the evening.
"Warm work, Adams," said he as he rode up.
"Very warm, your grace," said our general.
"But we can outstay them at it, I think. Tut, tut, we cannot let
skirmishers silence a battery! Just drive those fellows out of that,
Then first I knew what a devil's thrill runs through a man when he is
given a bit of fighting to do. Up to now we had just lain and been
killed, which is the weariest kind of work. Now it was our turn, and,
my word, we were ready for it. Up we jumped, the whole brigade, in a
four-deep line, and rushed at the cornfield as hard as we could tear.
The skirmishers snapped at us as we came, and then away they bolted like
corncrakes, their heads down, their backs rounded, and their muskets at
the trail. Half of them got away; but we caught up the others, the
officer first, for he was a very fat man who could not run fast.
It gave me quite a turn when I saw Rob Stewart, on my right, stick his
bayonet into the man's broad back and heard him howl like a damned soul.
There was no quarter in that field, and it was butt or point for all of
them. The men's blood was aflame, and little wonder, for these wasps
had been stinging all morning without our being able so much as to see
And now, as we broke through the further edge of the cornfield, we got
in front of the smoke, and there was the whole French army in position
before us, with only two meadows and a narrow lane between us. We set
up a yell as we saw them, and away we should have gone slap at them if
we had been left to ourselves; for silly young soldiers never think that
harm can come to them until it is there in their midst. But the Duke
had cantered his horse beside us as we advanced, and now he roared
something to the general, and the officers all rode in front of our line
holding out their arms for us to stop. There was a blowing of bugles, a
pushing and a shoving, with the sergeants cursing and digging us with
their halberts; and in less time than it takes me to write it, there was
the brigade in three neat little squares, all bristling with bayonets
and in echelon, as they call it, so that each could fire across the face
of the other.
It was the saving of us, as even so young a soldier as I was could very
easily see; and we had none too much time either. There was a low
rolling hill on our right flank, and from behind this there came a sound
like nothing on this earth so much as the beat of the waves on the
Berwick coast when the wind blows from the east. The earth was all
shaking with that dull roaring sound, and the air was full of it.
"Steady, 71st! for God's sake, steady!" shrieked the voice of our
colonel behind us; but in front was nothing but the green gentle slope
of the grassland, all mottled with daisies and dandelions.
And then suddenly over the curve we saw eight hundred brass helmets rise
up, all in a moment, each with a long tag of horsehair flying from its
crest; and then eight hundred fierce brown faces all pushed forward, and
glaring out from between the ears of as many horses. There was an
instant of gleaming breastplates, waving swords, tossing manes, fierce
red nostrils opening and shutting, and hoofs pawing the air before us;
and then down came the line of muskets, and our bullets smacked up
against their armour like the clatter of a hailstorm upon a window. I
fired with the rest, and then rammed down another charge as fast as I
could, staring out through the smoke in front of me, where I could see
some long, thin thing which napped slowly backwards and forwards. A
bugle sounded for us to cease firing, and a whiff of wind came to clear
the curtain from in front of us, and then we could see what had
I had expected to see half that regiment of horse lying on the ground;
but whether it was that their breastplates had shielded them, or
whether, being young and a little shaken at their coming, we had fired
high, our volley had done no very great harm. About thirty horses lay
about, three of them together within ten yards of me, the middle one
right on its back with its four legs in the air, and it was one of these
that I had seen flapping through the smoke. Then there were eight or ten
dead men and about as many wounded, sitting dazed on the grass for the
most part, though one was shouting "_Vive l'Empereur!_" at the top of
his voice. Another fellow who had been shot in the thigh--a great
black-moustached chap he was too--leaned his back against his dead horse
and, picking up his carbine, fired as coolly as if he had been shooting
for a prize, and hit Angus Myres, who was only two from me, right
through the forehead. Then he out with his hand to get another carbine
that lay near, but before he could reach it big Hodgson, who was the
pivot man of the Grenadier company, ran out and passed his bayonet
through his throat, which was a pity, for he seemed to be a very fine
At first I thought that the cuirassiers had run away in the smoke; but
they were not men who did that very easily. Their horses had swerved at
our volley, and they had raced past our square and taken the fire of the
two other ones beyond. Then they broke through a hedge, and coming on a
regiment of Hanoverians who were in line, they treated them as they
would have treated us if we had not been so quick, and cut them to
pieces in an instant. It was dreadful to see the big Germans running
and screaming while the cuirassiers stood up in their stirrups to have a
better sweep for their long, heavy swords, and cut and stabbed without
mercy. I do not believe that a hundred men of that regiment were left
alive; and the Frenchmen came back across our front, shouting at us and
waving their weapons, which were crimson down to the hilts. This they
did to draw our fire, but the colonel was too old a soldier; for we
could have done little harm at the distance, and they would have been
among us before we could reload.
These horsemen got behind the ridge on our right again, and we knew very
well that if we opened up from the squares they would be down upon us in
a twinkle. On the other hand, it was hard to bide as we were; for they
had passed the word to a battery of twelve guns, which formed up a few
hundred yards away from us, but out of our sight, sending their balls
just over the brow and down into the midst of us, which is called a
plunging fire. And one of their gunners ran up on to the top of the
slope and stuck a handspike into the wet earth to give them a guide,
under the very muzzles of the whole brigade, none of whom fired a shot
at him, each leaving him to the other. Ensign Samson, who was the
youngest subaltern in the regiment, ran out from the square and pulled
down the hand-spike; but quick as a jack after a minnow, a lancer came
flying over the ridge, and he made such a thrust from behind that not
only his point but his pennon too came out between the second and third
buttons of the lad's tunic. "Helen! Helen!" he shouted, and fell dead
on his face, while the lancer, blown half to pieces with musket balls,
toppled over beside him, still holding on to his weapon, so that they
lay together with that dreadful bond still connecting them.
But when the battery opened there was no time for us to think of
anything else. A square is a very good way of meeting a horseman, but
there is no worse one of taking a cannon ball, as we soon learned when
they began to cut red seams through us, until our ears were weary of the
slosh and splash when hard iron met living flesh and blood. After ten
minutes of it we moved our square a hundred paces to the right; but we
left another square behind us, for a hundred and twenty men and seven
officers showed where we had been standing. Then the guns found us out
again, and we tried to open out into line; but in an instant the
horsemen--lancers they were this time--were upon us from over the brae.
I tell you we were glad to hear the thud of their hoofs, for we knew
that that must stop the cannon for a minute and give us a chance of
hitting back. And we hit back pretty hard too that time, for we were
cold and vicious and savage, and I for one felt that I cared no more for
the horsemen than if they had been so many sheep on Corriemuir. One
gets past being afraid or thinking of one's own skin after a while, and
you just feel that you want to make some one pay for all you have gone
through. We took our change out of the lancers that time; for they had
no breastplates to shield them, and we cleared seventy of them out of
their saddles at a volley. Maybe, if we could have seen seventy mothers
weeping for their lads, we should not have felt so pleased over it; but
then, men are just brutes when they are fighting, and have as much
thought as two bull pups when they've got one another by the throttle.
Then the colonel did a wise stroke; for he reckoned that this would
stave off the cavalry for five minutes, so he wheeled us into line, and
got us back into a deeper hollow out of reach of the guns before they
could open again. This gave us time to breathe, and we wanted it too,
for the regiment had been melting away like an icicle in the sun.
But bad as it was for us, it was a deal worse for some of the others.
The whole of the Dutch Belgians were off by this time helter-skelter,
fifteen thousand of them, and there were great gaps left in our line
through which the French cavalry rode as pleased them best. Then the
French guns had been too many and too good for ours, and our heavy horse
had been cut to bits, so that things were none too merry with us.
On the other hand, Hougoumont, a blood-soaked ruin, was still ours, and
every British regiment was firm; though, to tell the honest truth, as a
man is bound to do, there were a sprinkling of red coats among the blue
ones who made for the rear. But these were lads and stragglers, the
faint hearts that are found everywhere, and I say again that no regiment
flinched. It was little we could see of the battle; but a man would be
blind not to know that all the fields behind us were covered with flying
men. But then, though we on the right wing knew nothing of it, the
Prussians had begun to show, and Napoleon had set 20,000 of his men to
face them, which made up for ours that had bolted, and left us much as
we began. That was all dark to us, however; and there was a time, when
the French horsemen had flooded in between us and the rest of the army,
that we thought we were the only brigade left standing, and had set our
teeth with the intention of selling our lives as dearly as we could.
At that time it was between four and five in the afternoon, and we had
had nothing to eat, the most of us, since the night before, and were
soaked with rain into the bargain. It had drizzled off and on all day,
but for the last few hours we had not had a thought to spare either upon
the weather or our hunger. Now we began to look round and tighten our
waist-belts, and ask who was hit and who was spared. I was glad to see
Jim, with his face all blackened with powder, standing on my right rear,
leaning on his firelock. He saw me looking at him, and shouted out to
know if I were hurt.
"All right, Jim," I answered.
"I fear I'm here on a wild-goose chase," said he gloomily, "but it's not
over yet. By God, I'll have him, or he'll have me!"
He had brooded so much on his wrong, had poor Jim, that I really believe
that it had turned his head; for he had a glare in his eyes as he spoke
that was hardly human. He was always a man that took even a little
thing to heart, and since Edie had left him I am sure that he was no
longer his own master.
It was at this time of the fight that we saw two single fights, which
they tell me were common enough in the battles of old, before men were
trained in masses. As we lay in the hollow two horsemen came spurring
along the ridge right in front of us, riding as hard as hoof could
rattle. The first was an English dragoon, his face right down on his
horse's mane, with a French cuirassier, an old, grey-headed fellow,
thundering behind him, on a big black mare. Our chaps set up a hooting
as they came flying on, for it seemed shame to see an Englishman run
like that; but as they swept across our front we saw where the trouble
lay. The dragoon had dropped his sword, and was unarmed, while the
other was pressing him so close that he could not get a weapon.
At last, stung maybe by our hooting, he made up his mind to chance it.
His eye fell on a lance beside a dead Frenchman, so he swerved his horse
to let the other pass, and hopping off cleverly enough, he gripped hold
of it. But the other was too tricky for him, and was on him like a
shot. The dragoon thrust up with the lance, but the other turned it,
and sliced him through the shoulder-blade. It was all done in an
instant, and the Frenchman cantering his horse up the brae, showing his
teeth at us over his shoulder like a snarling dog.
That was one to them, but we scored one for us presently. They had
pushed forward a skirmish line, whose fire was towards the batteries on
our right and left rather than on us; but we sent out two companies of
the 95th to keep them in check. It was strange to hear the crackling
kind of noise that they made, for both sides were using the rifle.
An officer stood among the French skirmishers--a tall, lean man with a
mantle over his shoulders--and as our fellows came forward he ran out
midway between the two parties and stood as a fencer would, with his
sword up and his head back. I can see him now, with his lowered eyelids
and the kind of sneer that he had upon his face. On this the subaltern
of the Rifles, who was a fine well-grown lad, ran forward and drove full
tilt at him with one of the queer crooked swords that the rifle-men
carry. They came together like two rams--for each ran for the other--
and down they tumbled at the shock, but the Frenchman was below.
Our man broke his sword short off, and took the other's blade through
his left arm; but he was the stronger man, and he managed to let the
life out of his enemy with the jagged stump of his blade. I thought
that the French skirmishers would have shot him down, but not a trigger
was drawn, and he got back to his company with one sword through his arm
and half of another in his hand.
THE END OF THE STORM.
Of all the things that seem strange in that battle, now that I look back
upon it, there is nothing that was queerer than the way in which it
acted on my comrades; for some took it as though it had been their daily
meat without question or change, and others pattered out prayers from
the first gunfire to the last, and others again cursed and swore in a
way that was creepy to listen to. There was one, my own left-hand man,
Mike Threadingham, who kept telling about his maiden aunt, Sarah, and
how she had left the money which had been promised to him to a home for
the children of drowned sailors. Again and again he told me this story,
and yet when the battle was over he took his oath that he had never
opened his lips all day. As to me, I cannot say whether I spoke or not,
but I know that my mind and my memory were clearer than I can ever
remember them, and I was thinking all the time about the old folk at
home, and about Cousin Edie with her saucy, dancing eyes, and de Lissac
with his cat's whiskers, and all the doings at West Inch, which had
ended by bringing us here on the plains of Belgium as a cockshot for two
hundred and fifty cannons.
During all this time the roaring of those guns had been something
dreadful to listen to, but now they suddenly died away, though it was
like the lull in a thunderstorm when one feels that a worse crash is
coming hard at the fringe of it. There was still a mighty noise on the
distant wing, where the Prussians were pushing their way onwards, but
that was two miles away. The other batteries, both French and English,
were silent, and the smoke cleared so that the armies could see a little
of each other. It was a dreary sight along our ridge, for there seemed
to be just a few scattered knots of red and the lines of green where the
German Legion stood, while the masses of the French appeared to be as
thick as ever, though of course we knew that they must have lost many
thousands in these attacks. We heard a great cheering and shouting from
among them, and then suddenly all their batteries opened together with a
roar which made the din of the earlier part seem nothing in comparison.
It might well be twice as loud, for every battery was twice as near,
being moved right up to point blank range, with huge masses of horse
between and behind them to guard them from attack.
When that devil's roar burst upon our ears there was not a man, down to
the drummer boys, who did not understand what it meant. It was
Napoleon's last great effort to crush us. There were but two more hours
of light, and if we could hold our own for those all would be well.
Starved and weary and spent, we prayed that we might have strength to
load and stab and fire while one of us stood upon his feet.
His cannon could do us no great hurt now, for we were on our faces, and
in an instant we could turn into a huddle of bayonets if his horse came
down again. But behind the thunder of the guns there rose a sharper,
shriller noise, whirring and rattling, the wildest, jauntiest, most
stirring kind of sound.
"It's the _pas-de-charge!_" cried an officer. "They mean business this
And as he spoke we saw a strange thing. A Frenchman, dressed as an
officer of hussars, came galloping towards us on a little bay horse.
He was screeching "_Vive le roi! Vive le roi!_" at the pitch of his
lungs, which was as much as to say that he was a deserter, since we were
for the king and they for the emperor. As he passed us he roared out in
English, "The Guard is coming! The Guard is coming!" and so vanished
away to the rear like a leaf blown before a storm. At the same instant
up there rode an aide-de-camp, with the reddest face that ever I saw
upon mortal man.
"You must stop 'em, or we are done!" he cried to General Adams, so that
all our company could hear him.
"How is it going?" asked the general.
"Two weak squadrons left out of six regiments of heavies," said he, and
began to laugh like a man whose nerves are overstrung.
"Perhaps you would care to join in our advance? Pray consider yourself
quite one of us," said the general, bowing and smiling as if he were
asking him to a dish of tea.
"I shall have much pleasure," said the other, taking off his hat; and a
moment afterwards our three regiments closed up, and the brigade
advanced in four lines over the hollow where we had lain in square, and
out beyond to the point whence we had seen the French army.
There was little of it to be seen now, only the red belching of the guns
flashing quickly out of the cloudbank, and the black figures--stooping,
straining, mopping, sponging--working like devils, and at devilish work.
But through the cloud that rattle and whirr rose ever louder and louder,
with a deep-mouthed shouting and the stamping of thousands of feet.
Then there came a broad black blurr through the haze, which darkened and
hardened until we could see that it was a hundred men abreast, marching
swiftly towards us, with high fur hats upon their heads and a gleam of
brasswork over their brows. And behind that hundred came another
hundred, and behind that another, and on and on, coiling and writhing
out of the cannon-smoke like a monstrous snake, until there seemed to be
no end to the mighty column. In front ran a spray of skirmishers, and
behind them the drummers, and up they all came together at a kind of
tripping step, with the officers clustering thickly at the sides and
waving their swords and cheering. There were a dozen mounted men too at
their front, all shouting together, and one with his hat held aloft upon
his swordpoint. I say again, that no men upon this earth could have
fought more manfully than the French did upon that day.
It was wonderful to see them; for as they came onwards they got ahead of
their own guns, so that they had no longer any help from them, while
they got in front of the two batteries which had been on either side of
us all day. Every gun had their range to a foot, and we saw long red
lines scored right down the dark column as it advanced. So near were
they, and so closely did they march, that every shot ploughed through
ten files of them, and yet they closed up and came on with a swing and
dash that was fine to see. Their head was turned straight for
ourselves, while the 95th overlapped them on one side and the 52nd on
I shall always think that if we had waited so the Guard would have
broken us; for how could a four-deep line stand against such a column?
But at that moment Colburne, the colonel of the 52nd, swung his right
flank round so as to bring it on the side of the column, which brought
the Frenchmen to a halt. Their front line was forty paces from us at
the moment, and we had a good look at them. It was funny to me to
remember that I had always thought of Frenchmen as small men; for there
was not one of that first company who could not have picked me up as if
I had been a child, and their great hats made them look taller yet.
They were hard, wizened, wiry fellows too, with fierce puckered eyes and
bristling moustaches, old soldiers who had fought and fought, week in,
week out, for many a year. And then, as I stood with my finger upon the
trigger waiting for the word to fire, my eye fell full upon the mounted
officer with his hat upon his sword, and I saw that it was de Lissac.
I saw it, and Jim did too. I heard a shout, and saw him rush forward
madly at the French column; and, as quick as thought, the whole brigade
took their cue from him, officers and all, and flung themselves upon the
Guard in front, while our comrades charged them on the flanks. We had
been waiting for the order, and they all thought now that it had been
given; but you may take my word for it, that Jim Horscroft was the real
leader of the brigade when we charged the Old Guard.
God knows what happened during that mad five minutes. I remember
putting my musket against a blue coat and pulling the trigger, and that
the man could not fall because he was so wedged in the crowd; but I saw
a horrid blotch upon the cloth, and a thin curl of smoke from it as if
it had taken fire. Then I found myself thrown up against two big
Frenchmen, and so squeezed together, the three of us, that we could not
raise a weapon. One of them, a fellow with a very large nose, got his
hand up to my throat, and I felt that I was a chicken in his grasp.
"_Rendez-vous, coqin; rendez-vous!_" said he, and then suddenly doubled
up with a scream, for someone had stabbed him in the bowels with a
bayonet. There was very little firing after the first sputter; but
there was the crash of butt against barrel, the short cries of stricken
men, and the roaring of the officers. And then, suddenly, they began to
give ground--slowly, sullenly, step by step, but still to give ground.
Ah! it was worth all that we had gone through, the thrill of that
moment, when we felt that they were going to break. There was one
Frenchman before me, a sharp-faced, dark-eyed man, who was loading and
firing as quietly as if he were at practice, dwelling upon his aim, and
looking round first to try and pick off an officer. I remember that it
struck me that to kill so cool a man as that would be a good service,
and I rushed at him and drove my bayonet into him. He turned as I
struck him and fired full into my face, and the bullet left a weal
across my cheek which will mark me to my dying day. I tripped over him
as he fell, and two others tumbling over me I was half smothered in the
heap. When at last I struggled out, and cleared my eyes, which were
half full of powder, I saw that the column had fairly broken, and was
shredding into groups of men, who were either running for their lives or
were fighting back to back in a vain attempt to check the brigade, which
was still sweeping onwards. My face felt as if a red-hot iron had been
laid across it; but I had the use of my limbs, so jumping over the
litter of dead and mangled men, I scampered after my regiment, and fell
in upon the right flank.
Old Major Elliott was there, limping along, for his horse had been shot,
but none the worse in himself. He saw me come up, and nodded, but it
was too busy a time for words. The brigade was still advancing, but the
general rode in front of me with his chin upon his shoulder, looking
back at the British position.
"There is no general advance," said he; "but I'm not going back."
"The Duke of Wellington has won a great victory," cried the
aide-de-camp, in a solemn voice; and then, his feelings getting the
better of him, he added, "if the damned fool would only push on!"--which
set us all laughing in the flank company.
But now anyone could see that the French army was breaking up.
The columns and squadrons which had stood so squarely all day were now
all ragged at the edges; and where there had been thick fringes of
skirmishers in front, there were now a spray of stragglers in the rear.
The Guard thinned out in front of us as we pushed on, and we found
twelve guns looking us in the face, but we were over them in a moment;
and I saw our youngest subaltern, next to him who had been killed by the
lancer, scribbling great 71's with a lump of chalk upon them, like the
schoolboy that he was. It was at that moment that we heard a roar of
cheering behind us, and saw the whole British army flood over the crest
of the ridge, and come pouring down upon the remains of their enemies.
The guns, too, came bounding and rattling forward, and our light
cavalry--as much as was left of it--kept pace with our brigade upon the
right. There was no battle after that. The advance went on without a
check, until our army stood lined upon the very ground which the French
had held in the morning. Their guns were ours, their foot were a rabble
spread over the face of the country, and their gallant cavalry alone was
able to preserve some sort of order and to draw off unbroken from the
field. Then at last, just as the night began to gather, our weary and
starving men were able to let the Prussians take the job over, and to
pile their arms upon the ground that they had won. That was as much as
I saw or can tell you about the Battle of Waterloo, except that I ate a
two-pound rye loaf for my supper that night, with as much salt meat as
they would let me have, and a good pitcher of red wine, until I had to
bore a new hole at the end of my belt, and then it fitted me as tight as
a hoop to a barrel. After that I lay down in the straw where the rest
of the company were sprawling, and in less than a minute I was in a dead
THE TALLY OF DEATH.
Day was breaking, and the first grey light had just begun to steal
through the long thin slits in the walls of our barn, when someone shook
me hard by the shoulder, and up I jumped. I had the thought in my
stupid, sleepy brain that the cuirassiers were upon us, and I gripped
hold of a halbert that was leaning against the wall; but then, as I saw
the long lines of sleepers, I remembered where I was. But I can tell
you that I stared when I saw that it was none other than Major Elliott
that had roused me up. His face was very grave, and behind him stood
two sergeants, with long slips of paper and pencils in their hands.
"Wake up, laddie," said the Major, quite in his old easy fashion, as if
we were back on Corriemuir again.
"Yes, Major?" I stammered.
"I want you to come with me. I feel that I owe something to you two
lads, for it was I that took you from your homes. Jim Horscroft is
I gave a start at that, for what with the rush and the hunger and the
weariness I had never given a thought to my friend since the time that
he had rushed at the French Guards with the whole regiment at his heels.
"I am going out now to take a tally of our losses," said the Major;
"and if you cared to come with me, I should be very glad to have you."
So off we set, the Major, the two sergeants, and I; and oh! but it was a
dreadful, dreadful sight!--so much so, that even now, after so many
years, I had rather say as little of it as possible. It was bad to see
in the heat of fight; but now in the cold morning, with no cheer or
drum-tap or bugle blare, all the glory had gone out of it, and it was
just one huge butcher's shop, where poor devils had been ripped and
burst and smashed, as though we had tried to make a mock of God's image.
There on the ground one could read every stage of yesterday's fight--the
dead footmen that lay in squares and the fringe of dead horsemen that
had charged them, and above on the slope the dead gunners, who lay round
their broken piece. The Guards' column had left a streak right up the
field like the trail of a snail, and at the head of it the blue coats
were lying heaped upon the red ones where that fierce tug had been
before they took their backward step.
And the very first thing that I saw when I got there was Jim himself.
He was lying on the broad of his back, his face turned up towards the
sky, and all the passion and the trouble seemed to have passed clean
away from him, so that he looked just like the old Jim as I had seen him
in his cot a hundred times when we were schoolmates together. I had
given a cry of grief at the sight of him; but when I came to look upon
his face, and to see how much happier he looked in death than I could
ever have hoped to see him in life, it was hard to mourn for him.
Two French bayonets had passed through his chest, and he had died in an
instant, and without pain, if one could believe the smile upon his lips.
The Major and I were raising his head in the hope that some flutter of
life might remain, when I heard a well-remembered voice at my side, and
there was de Lissac leaning upon his elbow among a litter of dead
guardsmen. He had a great blue coat muffled round him, and the hat with
the high red plume was lying on the ground beside him. He was very
pale, and had dark blotches under his eyes, but otherwise he was as he
had ever been, with the keen, hungry nose, the wiry moustache, and the
close-cropped head thinning away to baldness upon the top. His eyelids
had always drooped, but now one could hardly see the glint of his eyes
from beneath them.
"Hola, Jock!" he cried. "I didn't thought to have seen you here, and
yet I might have known it, too, when I saw friend Jim."
"It is you that has brought all this trouble," said I.
"Ta, ta, ta!" he cried, in his old impatient fashion. "It is all
arranged for us. When I was in Spain I learned to believe in Fate.
It is Fate which has sent you here this morning."
"This man's blood lies at your door," said I, with my hand on poor Jim's
"And mine on his, so we have paid our debts."
He flung open his mantle as he spoke, and I saw with horror that a great
black lump of clotted blood was hanging out of his side.
"This is my thirteenth and last," said he, with a smile. "They say that
thirteen is an unlucky number. Could you spare me a drink from your
The Major had some brandy and water. De Lissac supped it up eagerly.
His eyes brightened, and a little fleck of colour came back in each of
his haggard cheeks.
"It was Jim did this," said he. "I heard someone calling my name, and
there he was with his gun against my tunic. Two of my men cut him down
just as he fired. Well, well, Edie was worth it all! You will be in
Paris in less than a month, Jock, and you will see her. You will find
her at No. 11 of the Rue Miromesnil, which is near to the Madeleine.
Break it very gently to her, Jock, for you cannot think how she loved
me. Tell her that all I have are in the two black trunks, and that
Antoine has the keys. You will not forget?"
"I will remember."
"And madame, your mother? I trust that you have left her very well.
And monsieur, too, your father? Bear them my distinguished regards!"
Even now as death closed in upon him, he gave the old bow and wave as he
sent his greetings to my mother.
"Surely," said I, "your wound may not be so serious as you think.
I could bring the surgeon of our regiment to you."
"My dear Jock, I have not been giving and taking wounds this fifteen
years without knowing when one has come home. But it is as well, for I
know that all is ended for my little man, and I had rather go with my
Voltigeurs than remain to be an exile and a beggar. Besides, it is
quite certain that the Allies would have shot me, so I have saved myself
from that humiliation."
"The Allies, sir," said the Major, with some heat, "would be guilty of
no such barbarous action."
But de Lissac shook his head, with the same sad smile.
"You do not know, Major," said he. "Do you suppose that I should have
fled to Scotland and changed my name if I had not more to fear than my
comrades who remained in Paris? I was anxious to live, for I was sure
that my little man would come back. Now I had rather die, for he will
never lead an army again. But I have done things that could not be
forgiven. It was I that led the party which took and shot the Duc
d'Enghien. It was I--Ah, _mon Dieu!_ Edie, Edie, _ma cherie!_"
He threw out both his hands, with all the fingers feeling and quivering
in the air. Then he let them drop heavily in front of him, and his chin
fell forward upon his chest. One of our sergeants laid him gently down,
and the other stretched the big blue mantle over him; and so we left
those two whom Fate had so strangely brought together, the Scotchman and
the Frenchman, lying silently and peacefully within hand's touch of each
other, upon the blood-soaked hillside near Hougoumont.
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