The Great Shadow and Other Napoleonic Tales
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 3 out of 3
THE END OF IT.
And now I have very nearly come to the end of it all, and precious glad
I shall be to find myself there; for I began this old memory with a
light heart, thinking that it would give me some work for the long
summer evenings, but as I went on I wakened a thousand sleeping sorrows
and half-forgotten griefs, and now my soul is all as raw as the hide of
an ill-sheared sheep. If I come safely out of it I will swear never to
set pen to paper again, for it is so easy at first, like walking into a
shelving stream, and then before you can look round you are off your
feet and down in a hole, and can struggle out as best you may.
We buried Jim and de Lissac with four hundred and thirty-one others of
the French Guards and our own Light Infantry in a single trench. Ah! if
you could sow a brave man as you sow a seed, there should be a fine crop
of heroes coming up there some day! Then we left that bloody
battle-field behind us for ever, and with our brigade we marched on over
the French border on our way to Paris.
I had always been brought up during all these years to look upon the
French as very evil folk, and as we only heard of them in connection
with fightings and slaughterings, by land and by sea, it was natural
enough to think that they were vicious by nature and ill to meet with.
But then, after all, they had only heard of us in the same fashion, and
so, no doubt, they had just the same idea of us. But when we came to go
through their country, and to see their bonny little steadings, and the
douce quiet folk at work in the fields, and the women knitting by the
roadside, and the old granny with a big white mutch smacking the baby to
teach it manners, it was all so home-like that I could not think why it
was that we had been hating and fearing these good people for so long.
But I suppose that in truth it was really the man who was over them that
we hated, and now that he was gone and his great shadow cleared from the
land, all was brightness once more.
We jogged along happily enough through the loveliest country that ever I
set my eyes on, until we came to the great city, where we thought that
maybe there would be a battle, for there are so many folk in it that if
only one in twenty comes out it would make a fine army. But by that
time they had seen that it was a pity to spoil the whole country just
for the sake of one man, and so they had told him that he must shift for
himself in the future. The next we heard was that he had surrendered to
the British, and that the gates of Paris were opened to us, which was
very good news to me, for I could get along very well just on the one
battle that I had had.
But there were plenty of folk in Paris now who loved Boney; and that was
natural when you think of the glory that he had brought them, and how he
had never asked his army to go where he would not go himself. They had
stern enough faces for us, I can tell you, when we marched in, and we of
Adams' brigade were the very first who set foot in the city. We passed
over a bridge which they call Neuilly, which is easier to write than to
say, and through a fine park--the Bois de Boulogne, and so into the
Champs d'Elysees. There we bivouacked, and pretty soon the streets were
so full of Prussians and English that it became more like a camp than a
The very first time that I could get away I went with Rob Stewart, of my
company--for we were only allowed to go about in couples--to the Rue
Miromesnil. Rob waited in the hall, and I was shown upstairs; and as I
put my foot over the mat, there was Cousin Edie, just the same as ever,
staring at me with those wild eyes of hers. For a moment she did not
recognise me, but when she did she just took three steps forward and
sprang at me, with her two arms round my neck.
"Oh, my dear old Jock," she cried, "how fine you look in a red coat!"
"Yes, I am a soldier now, Edie," said I, very stiffly; for as I looked
at her pretty face, I seemed to see behind it that other face which had
looked up to the morning sky on the Belgium battle-field.
"Fancy that!" she cried. "What are you, then, Jock? A general?
"No, I am a private."
"What! Not one of the common people who carry guns?"
"Yes, I carry a gun."
"Oh, that is not nearly so interesting," said she. And she went back to
the sofa from which she had risen. It was a wonderful room, all silk
and velvet and shiny things, and I felt inclined to go back to give my
boots another rub. As Edie sat down again, I saw that she was all in
black, and so I knew that she had heard of de Lissac's death.
"I am glad to see that you know all," said I, for I am a clumsy hand at
breaking things. "He said that you were to keep whatever was in the
boxes, and that Antoine had the keys."
"Thank you, Jock, thank you," said she. "It was like your kindness to
bring the message. I heard of it nearly a week ago. I was mad for the
time--quite mad. I shall wear mourning all my days, although you can
see what a fright it makes me look. Ah! I shall never get over it.
I shall take the veil and die in a convent."
"If you please, madame," said a maid, looking in, "the Count de Beton
wishes to see you."
"My dear Jock," said Edie, jumping up, "this is very important. I am
sorry to cut our chat short, but I am sure that you will come to see me
again, will you not, when I am less desolate? And would you mind going
out by the side door instead of the main one? Thank you, you dear old
Jock; you were always such a good boy, and did exactly what you were
And that was the last that I was ever to see of Cousin Edie. She stood
in the sunlight with the old challenge in her eyes, and flash of her
teeth; and so I shall always remember her, shining and unstable, like a
drop of quicksilver. As I joined my comrade in the street below, I saw
a grand carriage and pair at the door, and I knew that she had asked me
to slip out so that her grand new friends might never know what common
people she had been associated with in her childhood. She had never
asked for Jim, nor for my father and mother who had been so kind to her.
Well, it was just her way, and she could no more help it than a rabbit
can help wagging its scut, and yet it made me heavy-hearted to think of
it. Two months later I heard that she had married this same Count de
Beton, and she died in child-bed a year or two later.
And as for us, our work was done, for the great shadow had been cleared
away from Europe, and should no longer be thrown across the breadth of
the lands, over peaceful farms and little villages, darkening the lives
which should have been so happy. I came back to Corriemuir after I had
bought my discharge, and there, when my father died, I took over the
sheep-farm, and married Lucy Deane, of Berwick, and have brought up
seven children, who are all taller than their father, and take mighty
good care that he shall not forget it. But in the quiet, peaceful days
that pass now, each as like the other as so many Scotch tups, I can
hardly get the young folks to believe that even here we have had our
romance, when Jim and I went a-wooing, and the man with the cat's
whiskers came up from the sea.
THE CRIME OF THE BRIGADIER.
In all the great hosts of France there was only one officer towards whom
the English of Wellington's army retained a deep, steady, and
unchangeable hatred. There were plunderers among the French, and men of
violence, gamblers, duellists, and _roues_. All these could be
forgiven, for others of their kidney were to be found among the ranks of
the English. But one officer of Massena's force had committed a crime
which was unspeakable, unheard of, abominable; only to be alluded to
with curses late in the evening, when a second bottle had loosened the
tongues of men. The news of it was carried back to England, and country
gentlemen who knew little of the details of the war grew crimson with
passion when they heard of it, and yeomen of the shires raised freckled
fists to Heaven and swore. And yet who should be the doer of this
dreadful deed but our friend the Brigadier, Etienne Gerard, of the
Hussars of Conflans, gay-riding, plume-tossing, debonnaire, the darling
of the ladies and of the six brigades of light cavalry.
But the strange part of it is that this gallant gentleman did this
hateful thing, and made himself the most unpopular man in the Peninsula,
without ever knowing that he had done a crime for which there is hardly
a name amid all the resources of our language. He died of old age, and
never once in that imperturbable self-confidence which adorned or
disfigured his character knew that so many thousand Englishmen would
gladly have hanged him with their own hands. On the contrary, he
numbered this adventure among those other exploits which he has given to
the world, and many a time he chuckled and hugged himself as he narrated
it to the eager circle who gathered round him in that humble cafe where,
between his dinner and his dominoes, he would tell, amid tears and
laughter, of that inconceivable Napoleonic past when France, like an
angel of wrath, rose up, splendid and terrible, before a cowering
continent. Let us listen to him as he tells the story in his own way
and from his own point of view.
You must know, my friends, said he, that it was towards the end of the
year eighteen hundred and ten that I and Massena and the others pushed
Wellington backwards until we had hoped to drive him and his army into
the Tagus. But when we were still twenty-five miles from Lisbon we
found that we were betrayed, for what had this Englishman done but build
an enormous line of works and forts at a place called Torres Vedras, so
that even we were unable to get through them! They lay across the whole
Peninsula, and our army was so far from home that we did not dare to
risk a reverse, and we had already learned at Busaco that it was no
child's play to fight against these people. What could we do, then, but
sit down in front of these lines and blockade them to the best of our
power? There we remained for six months, amid such anxieties that
Massena said afterwards that he had not one hair which was not white
upon his body. For my own part, I did not worry much about our
situation, but I looked after our horses, who were in great need of rest
and green fodder. For the rest, we drank the wine of the country and
passed the time as best we might. There was a lady at Santarem--but my
lips are sealed. It is the part of a gallant man to say nothing, though
he may indicate that he could say a great deal.
One day Massena sent for me, and I found him in his tent with a great
plan pinned upon the table. He looked at me in silence with that single
piercing eye of his, and I felt by his expression that the matter was
serious. He was nervous and ill at ease, but my bearing seemed to
reassure him. It is good to be in contact with brave men.
"Colonel Etienne Gerard," said he, "I have always heard that you are a
very gallant and enterprising officer."
It was not for me to confirm such a report, and yet it would be folly to
deny it, so I clinked my spurs together and saluted.
"You are also an excellent rider."
I admitted it.
"And the best swordsman in the six brigades of light cavalry."
Massena was famous for the accuracy of his information.
"Now," said he, "if you will look at this plan you will have no
difficulty in understanding what it is that I wish you to do.
These are the lines of Torres Vedras. You will perceive that they cover
a vast space, and you will realize that the English can only hold a
position here and there. Once through the lines you have twenty-five
miles of open country which lie between them and Lisbon. It is very
important to me to learn how Wellington's troops are distributed
throughout that space, and it is my wish that you should go and
His words turned me cold.
"Sir," said I, "it is impossible that a colonel of light cavalry should
condescend to act as a spy."
He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder.
"You would not be a Hussar if you were not a hothead," said he. "If you
will listen you will understand that I have not asked you to act as a
spy. What do you think of that horse?"
He had conducted me to the opening of his tent, and there was a Chasseur
who led up and down a most admirable creature. He was a dapple grey,
not very tall--a little over fifteen hands perhaps--but with the short
head and splendid arch of the neck which comes with the Arab blood.
His shoulders and haunches were so muscular, and yet his legs so fine,
that it thrilled me with joy just to gaze upon him. A fine horse or a
beautiful woman, I cannot look at them unmoved, even now when seventy
winters have chilled my blood. You can think how it was in the year
"This," said Massena, "is Voltigeur, the swiftest horse in our army.
What I desire is that you should start to-night, ride round the lines
upon the flank, make your way across the enemy's rear, and return upon
the other flank, bringing me news of his dispositions. You will wear a
uniform, and will, therefore, if captured, be safe from the death of a
spy. It is probable that you will get through the lines unchallenged,
for the posts are very scattered. Once through, in daylight you can
outride anything which you meet, and if you keep off the roads you may
escape entirely unnoticed. If you have not reported yourself by
tomorrow night, I will understand that you are taken, and I will offer
them Colonel Petrie in exchange."
Ah, how my heart swelled with pride and joy as I sprang into the saddle
and galloped this grand horse up and down to show the Marshal the
mastery which I had of him! He was magnificent--we were both
magnificent, for Massena clapped his hands and cried out in his delight.
It was not I, but he, who said that a gallant beast deserves a gallant
rider. Then, when for the third time, with my panache flying and my
dolman streaming behind me, I thundered past him, I saw upon his hard
old face that he had no longer any doubt that he had chosen the man for
his purpose. I drew my sabre, raised the hilt to my lips in salute, and
galloped on to my own quarters. Already the news had spread that I had
been chosen for a mission, and my little rascals came swarming out of
their tents to cheer me. Ah! it brings the tears to my old eyes when I
think how proud they were of their Colonel. And I was proud of them
also. They deserved a dashing leader.
The night promised to be a stormy one, which was very much to my liking.
It was my desire to keep my departure most secret, for it was evident
that if the English heard that I had been detached from the army they
would naturally conclude that something important was about to happen.
My horse was taken, therefore, beyond the picket line, as if for
watering, and I followed and mounted him there. I had a map, a compass,
and a paper of instructions from the Marshal, and with these in the
bosom of my tunic and my sabre at my side, I set out upon my adventure.
A thin rain was falling and there was no moon, so you may imagine that
it was not very cheerful. But my heart was light at the thought of the
honour which had been done me and the glory which awaited me.
This exploit should be one more in that brilliant series which was to
change my sabre into a baton. Ah, how we dreamed, we foolish fellows,
young, and drunk with success! Could I have foreseen that night as I
rode, the chosen man of sixty thousand, that I should spend my life
planting cabbages on a hundred francs a month! Oh, my youth, my hopes,
my comrades! But the wheel turns and never stops. Forgive me, my
friends, for an old man has his weakness.
My route, then, lay across the face of the high ground of Torres Vedras,
then over a streamlet, past a farmhouse which had been burned down and
was now only a landmark, then through a forest of young cork oaks, and
so to the monastery of San Antonio, which marked the left of the English
position. Here I turned south and rode quietly over the downs, for it
was at this point that Massena thought that it would be most easy for me
to find my way unobserved through the position. I went very slowly, for
it was so dark that I could not see my hand in front of me. In such
cases I leave my bridle loose and let my horse pick its own way.
Voltigeur went confidently forward, and I was very content to sit upon
his back and to peer about me, avoiding every light. For three hours we
advanced in this cautious way, until it seemed to me that I must have
left all danger behind me. I then pushed on more briskly, for I wished
to be in the rear of the whole army by daybreak. There are many
vineyards in these parts which in winter become open plains, and a
horseman finds few difficulties in his way.
But Massena had underrated the cunning of these English, for it appears
that there was not one line of defence, but three, and it was the third,
which was the most formidable, through which I was at that instant
passing. As I rode, elated at my own success, a lantern flashed
suddenly before me, and I saw the glint of polished gun-barrels and the
gleam of a red coat.
"Who goes there?" cried a voice--such a voice! I swerved to the right
and rode like a madman, but a dozen squirts of fire came out of the
darkness, and the bullets whizzed all round my ears. That was no new
sound to me, my friends, though I will not talk like a foolish conscript
and say that I have ever liked it. But at least it had never kept me
from thinking clearly, and so I knew that there was nothing for it but
to gallop hard and try my luck elsewhere. I rode round the English
picket, and then, as I heard nothing more of them, I concluded rightly
that I had at last come through their defences. For five miles I rode
south, striking a tinder from time to time to look at my pocket compass.
And then in an instant--I feel the pang once more as my memory brings
back the moment--my horse, without a sob or stagger, fell stone dead
I had not known it, but one of the bullets from that infernal picket had
passed through his body. The gallant creature had never winced nor
weakened, but had gone while life was in him. One instant I was secure
on the swiftest, most graceful horse in Massena's army. The next he lay
upon his side, worth only the price of his hide, and I stood there that
most helpless, most ungainly of creatures, a dismounted Hussar.
What could I do with my boots, my spurs, my trailing sabre? I was far
inside the enemy's lines. How could I hope to get back again? I am not
ashamed to say that I, Etienne Gerard, sat upon my dead horse and sank
my face in my hands in my despair. Already the first streaks were
whitening the east. In half an hour it would be light. That I should
have won my way past every obstacle and then at this last instant be
left at the mercy of my enemies, my mission ruined, and myself a
prisoner--was it not enough to break a soldier's heart?
But courage, my friends! We have these moments of weakness, the bravest
of us; but I have a spirit like a slip of steel, for the more you bend
it the higher it springs. One spasm of despair, and then a brain of ice
and a heart of fire. All was not yet lost. I who had come through so
many hazards would come through this one also. I rose from my horse and
considered what had best be done.
And first of all it was certain that I could not get back. Long before
I could pass the lines it would be broad daylight. I must hide myself
for the day, and then devote the next night to my escape. I took the
saddle, holsters, and bridle from poor Voltigeur, and I concealed them
among some bushes, so that no one finding him could know that he was a
French horse. Then, leaving him lying there, I wandered on in search of
some place where I might be safe for the day. In every direction I
could see camp fires upon the sides of the hills, and already figures
had begun to move around them. I must hide quickly, or I was lost.
But where was I to hide? It was a vineyard in which I found myself, the
poles of the vines still standing, but the plants gone. There was no
cover there. Besides, I should want some food and water before another
night had come. I hurried wildly onwards through the waning darkness,
trusting that chance would be my friend. And I was not disappointed.
Chance is a woman, my friends, and she has her eye always upon a gallant
Well, then, as I stumbled through the vineyard, something loomed in
front of me, and I came upon a great square house with another long, low
building upon one side of it. Three roads met there, and it was easy to
see that this was the posada, or wine-shop. There was no light in the
windows, and everything was dark and silent, but, of course, I knew that
such comfortable quarters were certainly occupied, and probably by some
one of importance. I have learned, however, that the nearer the danger
may really be the safer the place, and so I was by no means inclined to
trust myself away from this shelter. The low building was evidently the
stable, and into this I crept, for the door was unlatched. The place
was full of bullocks and sheep, gathered there, no doubt, to be out of
the clutches of marauders. A ladder led to a loft, and up this I
climbed, and concealed myself very snugly among some bales of hay upon
the top. This loft had a small open window, and I was able to look down
upon the front of the inn and also upon the road. There I crouched and
waited to see what would happen.
It was soon evident that I had not been mistaken when I had thought that
this might be the quarters of some person of importance. Shortly after
daybreak an English light dragoon arrived with a despatch, and from then
onwards the place was in a turmoil, officers continually riding up and
away. Always the same name was upon their lips: "Sir Stapleton--Sir
Stapleton." It was hard for me to lie there with a dry moustache and
watch the great flagons which were brought out by the landlord to these
English officers. But it amused me to look at their fresh-coloured,
clean-shaven, careless faces, and to wonder what they would think if
they knew that so celebrated a person was lying so near to them. And
then, as I lay and watched, I saw a sight which filled me with surprise.
It is incredible the insolence of these English! What do you suppose
Milord Wellington had done when he found that Massena had blockaded him
and that he could not move his army? I might give you many guesses.
You might say that he had raged, that he had despaired, that he had
brought his troops together and spoken to them about glory and the
fatherland before leading them to one last battle. No, Milord did none
of these things. But he sent a fleet ship to England to bring him a
number of fox-dogs, and he with his officers settled himself down to
chase the fox. It is true what I tell you. Behind the lines of Torres
Vedras these mad Englishmen made the fox-chase three days in the week.
We had heard of it in the camp, and now I was myself to see that it was
For, along the road which I have described, there came these very dogs,
thirty or forty of them, white and brown, each with its tail at the same
angle, like the bayonets of the Old Guard. My faith, but it was a
pretty sight! And behind and amidst them there rode three men with
peaked caps and red coats, whom I understood to be the hunters. After
them came many horsemen with uniforms of various kinds, stringing along
the roads in twos and threes, talking together and laughing. They did
not seem to be going above a trot, and it appeared to me that it must
indeed be a slow fox which they hoped to catch. However, it was their
affair, not mine, and soon they had all passed my window and were out of
sight. I waited and I watched, ready for any chance which might offer.
Presently an officer, in a blue uniform not unlike that of our flying
artillery, came cantering down the road--an elderly, stout man he was,
with grey side-whiskers. He stopped and began to talk with an orderly
officer of dragoons, who waited outside the inn, and it was then that I
learned the advantage of the English which had been taught me. I could
hear and understand all that was said.
"Where is the meet?" said the officer, and I thought that he was
hungering for his bifstek. But the other answered him that it was near
Altara, so I saw that it was a place of which he spoke.
"You are late, Sir George," said the orderly.
"Yes, I had a court-martial. Has Sir Stapleton Cotton gone?"
At this moment a window opened, and a handsome young man in a very
splendid uniform looked out of it.
"Halloa, Murray!" said he. "These cursed papers keep me, but I will be
at your heels."
"Very good, Cotton. I am late already, so I will ride on."
"You might order my groom to bring round my horse," said the young
general at the window to the orderly below, while the other went on down
the road. The orderly rode away to some outlying stable, and then in a
few minutes there came a smart English groom with a cockade in his hat,
leading by the bridle a horse--and, oh, my friends, you have never known
the perfection to which a horse can attain until you have seen a
first-class English hunter. He was superb: tall, broad, strong, and yet
as graceful and agile as a deer. Coal black he was in colour, and his
neck, and his shoulder, and his quarters, and his fetlocks--how can I
describe him all to you? The sun shone upon him as on polished ebony,
and he raised his hoofs in a little, playful dance so lightly and
prettily, while he tossed his mane and whinnied with impatience. Never
have I seen such a mixture of strength and beauty and grace. I had
often wondered how the English Hussars had managed to ride over the
Chasseurs of the Guards in the affair at Astorga, but I wondered no
longer when I saw the English horses.
There was a ring for fastening bridles at the door of the inn, and the
groom tied the horse there while he entered the house. In an instant I
had seen the chance which Fate had brought to me. Were I in that saddle
I should be better off than when I started. Even Voltigeur could not
compare with this magnificent creature. To think is to act with me.
In one instant I was down the ladder and at the door of the stable.
The next I was out and the bridle was in my hand. I bounded into the
saddle. Somebody, the master or the man, shouted wildly behind me.
What cared I for his shouts! I touched the horse with my spurs, and he
bounded forward with such a spring that only a rider like myself could
have sat him. I gave him his head and let him go--it did not matter to
me where, so long as we left this inn far behind us. He thundered away
across the vineyards, and in a very few minutes I had placed miles
between myself and my pursuers. They could no longer tell, in that wild
country, in which direction I had gone. I knew that I was safe, and so,
riding to the top of a small hill, I drew my pencil and note-book from
my pocket and proceeded to make plans of those camps which I could see,
and to draw the outline of the country.
He was a dear creature upon whom I sat, but it was not easy to draw upon
his back, for every now and then his two ears would cock, and he would
start and quiver with impatience. At first I could not understand this
trick of his, but soon I observed that he only did it when a peculiar
noise--"yoy, yoy, yoy"--came from somewhere among the oak woods beneath
us. And then suddenly this strange cry changed into a most terrible
screaming, with the frantic blowing of a horn. Instantly he went mad--
this horse. His eyes blazed. His mane bristled. He bounded from the
earth and bounded again, twisting and turning in a frenzy. My pencil
flew one way and my notebook another. And then, as I looked down into
the valley, an extraordinary sight met my eyes. The hunt was streaming
down it. The fox I could not see, but the dogs were in full cry, their
noses down, their tails up, so close together that they might have been
one great yellow and white moving carpet. And behind them rode the
horsemen--my faith, what a sight! Consider every type which a great army
could show: some in hunting dress, but the most in uniforms; blue
dragoons, red dragoons, red-trousered hussars, green riflemen,
artillerymen, gold-slashed lancers, and most of all red, red, red, for
the infantry officers ride as hard as the cavalry. Such a crowd, some
well mounted, some ill, but all flying along as best they might, the
subaltern as good as the general, jostling and pushing, spurring and
driving, with every thought thrown to the winds save that they should
have the blood of this absurd fox! Truly, they are an extraordinary
people, the English!
But I had little time to watch the hunt or to marvel at these islanders,
for of all these mad creatures the very horse upon which I sat was the
maddest. You understand that he was himself a hunter, and that the
crying of these dogs was to him what the call of a cavalry trumpet in
the street yonder would be to me. It thrilled him. It drove him wild.
Again and again he bounded into the air, and then, seizing the bit
between his teeth, he plunged down the slope and galloped after the
dogs. I swore, and tugged, and pulled, but I was powerless.
This English General rode his horse with a snaffle only, and the beast
had a mouth of iron. It was useless to pull him back. One might as
well try to keep a Grenadier from a wine bottle. I gave it up in
despair, and, settling down in the saddle, I prepared for the worst
which could befall.
What a creature he was! Never have I felt such a horse between my
knees. His great haunches gathered under him with every stride, and he
shot forward ever faster and faster, stretched like a greyhound, while
the wind beat in my face and whistled past my ears. I was wearing our
undress jacket, a uniform simple and dark in itself--though some figures
give distinction to any uniform--and I had taken the precaution to
remove the long panache from my busby. The result was that, amidst the
mixture of costumes in the hunt, there was no reason why mine should
attract attention, or why these men, whose thoughts were all with the
chase, should give any heed to me. The idea that a French officer might
be riding with them was too absurd to enter their minds. I laughed as I
rode, for, indeed, amid all the danger, there was something of comic in
I have said that the hunters were very unequally mounted, and so, at the
end of a few miles, instead of being one body of men, like a charging
regiment, they were scattered over a considerable space, the better
riders well up to the dogs and the others trailing away behind. Now, I
was as good a rider as any, and my horse was the best of them all, and
so you can imagine that it was not long before he carried me to the
front. And when I saw the dogs streaming over the open, and the
red-coated huntsman behind them, and only seven or eight horsemen
between us, then it was that the strangest thing of all happened, for I,
too, went mad--I, Etienne Gerard! In a moment it came upon me, this
spirit of sport, this desire to excel, this hatred of the fox.
Accursed animal, should he then defy us? Vile robber, his hour was
come! Ah, it is a great feeling, this feeling of sport, my friends,
this desire to trample the fox under the hoofs of your horse. I have
made the fox-chase with the English. I have also, as I may tell you
some day, fought the box-fight with the Bustler, of Bristol. And I say
to you that this sport is a wonderful thing--full of interest as well as
The farther we went the faster galloped my horse, and soon there were
but three men as near the dogs as I was. All thought of fear of
discovery had vanished. My brain throbbed, my blood ran hot--only one
thing upon earth seemed worth living for, and that was to overtake this
infernal fox. I passed one of the horsemen--a Hussar like myself.
There were only two in front of me now: the one in a black coat, the
other the blue artilleryman whom I had seen at the inn. His grey
whiskers streamed in the wind, but he rode magnificently. For a mile or
more we kept in this order, and then, as we galloped up a steep slope,
my lighter weight brought me to the front. I passed them both, and when
I reached the crown I was riding level with the little, hard-faced
English huntsman. In front of us were the dogs, and then, a hundred
paces beyond them, was a brown wisp of a thing, the fox itself,
stretched to the uttermost. The sight of him fired my blood. "Aha, we
have you then, assassin!" I cried, and shouted my encouragement to the
huntsman. I waved my hand to show him that there was one upon whom he
And now there were only the dogs between me and my prey. These dogs,
whose duty it is to point out the game, were now rather a hindrance than
a help to us, for it was hard to know how to pass them. The huntsman
felt the difficulty as much as I, for he rode behind them, and could
make no progress towards the fox. He was a swift rider, but wanting in
enterprise. For my part, I felt that it would be unworthy of the
Hussars of Conflans if I could not overcome such a difficulty as this.
Was Etienne Gerard to be stopped by a herd of fox-dogs? It was absurd.
I gave a shout and spurred my horse.
"Hold hard, sir! Hold hard!" cried the huntsman.
He was uneasy for me, this good old man, but I reassured him by a wave
and a smile. The dogs opened in front of me. One or two may have been
hurt, but what would you have? The egg must be broken for the omelette.
I could hear the huntsman shouting his congratulations behind me.
One more effort, and the dogs were all behind me. Only the fox was in
Ah, the joy and pride of that moment! To know that I had beaten the
English at their own sport. Here were three hundred all thirsting for
the life of this animal, and yet it was I who was about to take it.
I thought of my comrades of the light cavalry brigade, of my mother, of
the Emperor, of France. I had brought honour to each and all.
Every instant brought me nearer to the fox. The moment for action had
arrived, so I unsheathed my sabre. I waved it in the air, and the brave
English all shouted behind me.
Only then did I understand how difficult is this fox-chase, for one may
cut again and again at the creature and never strike him once. He is
small, and turns quickly from a blow. At every cut I heard those shouts
of encouragement from behind me, and they spurred me to yet another
effort. And then, at last, the supreme moment of my triumph arrived.
In the very act of turning I caught him fair with such another
back-handed cut as that with which I killed the aide-de-camp of the
Emperor of Russia. He flew into two pieces, his head one way and his
tail another. I looked back and waved the blood-stained sabre in the
air. For the moment I was exalted--superb.
Ah! how I should have loved to have waited to have received the
congratulations of these generous enemies. There were fifty of them in
sight, and not one who was not waving his hand and shouting. They are
not really such a phlegmatic race, the English. A gallant deed in war
or in sport will always warm their hearts. As to the old huntsman, he
was the nearest to me, and I could see with my own eyes how overcome he
was by what he had seen. He was like a man paralyzed--his mouth open,
his hand, with outspread fingers, raised in the air. For a moment my
inclination was to return and to embrace him. But already the call of
duty was sounding in my ears, and these English, in spite of all the
fraternity which exists among sportsmen, would certainly have made me
prisoner. There was no hope for my mission now, and I had done all that
I could do. I could see the lines of Massena's camp no very great
distance off, for, by a lucky chance, the chase had taken us in that
direction. I turned from the dead fox, saluted with my sabre, and
But they would not leave me so easily, these gallant huntsmen. I was
the fox now, and the chase swept bravely over the plain. It was only at
the moment when I started for the camp that they could have known that I
was a Frenchman, and now the whole swarm of them were at my heels.
We were within gunshot of our pickets before they would halt, and then
they stood in knots and would not go away, but shouted and waved their
hands at me. No, I will not think that it was in enmity. Rather would
I fancy that a glow of admiration filled their breasts, and that their
one desire was to embrace the stranger who had carried himself so
gallantly and well.
THE "SLAPPING SAL."
It was in the days when France's power was already broken upon the seas,
and when more of her three-deckers lay rotting in the Medway than were
to be found in Brest harbour. But her frigates and corvettes still
scoured the ocean, closely followed ever by those of her rival. At the
uttermost ends of the earth these dainty vessels, with sweet names of
girls or of flowers, mangled and shattered each other for the honour of
the four yards of bunting which flapped from the end of their gaffs.
It had blown hard in the night, but the wind had dropped with the
dawning, and now the rising sun tinted the fringe of the storm-wrack as
it dwindled into the west and glinted on the endless crests of the long,
green waves. To north and south and west lay a skyline which was
unbroken save by the spout of foam when two of the great Atlantic seas
dashed each other into spray. To the east was a rocky island, jutting
out into craggy points, with a few scattered clumps of palm trees and a
pennant of mist streaming out from the bare, conical hill which capped
it. A heavy surf beat upon the shore, and, at a safe distance from it,
the British 32-gun frigate _Leda_, Captain A. P. Johnson, raised her
black, glistening side upon the crest of a wave, or swooped down into an
emerald valley, dipping away to the nor'ard under easy sail. On her
snow-white quarter-deck stood a stiff little brown-faced man, who swept
the horizon with his glass.
"Mr. Wharton!" he cried, with a voice like a rusty hinge.
A thin, knock-kneed officer shambled across the poop to him.
"I've opened the sealed orders, Mr. Wharton."
A glimmer of curiosity shone upon the meagre features of the first
lieutenant. The _Leda_ had sailed with her consort, the _Dido_, from
Antigua the week before, and the admiral's orders had been contained in
a sealed envelope.
"We were to open them on reaching the deserted island of Sombriero,
lying in north latitude eighteen, thirty-six, west longitude
sixty-three, twenty-eight. Sombriero bore four miles to the north-east
from our port-bow when the gale cleared, Mr. Wharton."
The lieutenant bowed stiffly. He and the captain had been bosom friends
from childhood. They had gone to school together, joined the navy
together, fought again and again together, and married into each other's
families, but so long as their feet were on the poop the iron discipline
of the service struck all that was human out of them and left only the
superior and the subordinate. Captain Johnson took from his pocket a
blue paper, which crackled as he unfolded it.
"The 32-gun frigates _Leda_ and _Dido_ (Captains A. P. Johnson
and James Munro) are to cruise from the point at which these
instructions are read to the mouth of the Caribbean Sea, in
the hope of encountering the French frigate _La Gloire_ (48),
which has recently harassed our merchant ships in that quarter.
H.M. frigates are also directed to hunt down the piratical craft
known sometimes as the _Slapping Sal_ and sometimes as the _Hairy
Hudson_, which has plundered the British ships as per margin,
inflicting barbarities upon their crews. She is a small brig,
carrying ten light guns, with one twenty-four pound carronade
forward. She was last seen upon the 23rd ult. to the north-east
of the island of Sombriero."
"(Signed) JAMES MONTGOMERY,"
H.M.S. _Colossus_, Antigua."
"We appear to have lost our consort," said Captain Johnson, folding up
his instructions and again sweeping the horizon with his glass.
"She drew away after we reefed down. It would be a pity if we met this
heavy Frenchman without the _Dido_, Mr. Wharton. Eh?"
The lieutenant twinkled and smiled.
"She has eighteen-pounders on the main and twelves on the poop, sir,"
said the captain. "She carries four hundred to our two hundred and
thirty-one. Captain de Milon is the smartest man in the French service.
Oh, Bobby boy, I'd give my hopes of my flag to rub my side up against
her!" He turned on his heel, ashamed of his momentary lapse.
"Mr. Wharton," said he, looking back sternly over his shoulder, "get
those square sails shaken out and bear away a point more to the west."
"A brig on the port-bow," came a voice from the forecastle.
"A brig on the port-bow," said the lieutenant.
The captain sprang upon the bulwarks and held on by the mizzen-shrouds,
a strange little figure with flying skirts and puckered eyes. The lean
lieutenant craned his neck and whispered to Smeaton, the second, while
officers and men came popping up from below and clustered along the
weather-rail, shading their eyes with their hands--for the tropical sun
was already clear of the palm trees. The strange brig lay at anchor in
the throat of a curving estuary, and it was already obvious that she
could not get out without passing under the guns of the frigate.
A long, rocky point to the north of her held her in.
"Keep her as she goes, Mr. Wharton," said the captain. "Hardly worth
while our clearing for action, Mr. Smeaton, but the men can stand by the
guns in case she tries to pass us. Cast loose the bow-chasers and send
the small-arm men to the forecastle."
A British crew went to its quarters in those days with the quiet
serenity of men on their daily routine. In a few minutes, without fuss
or sound, the sailors were knotted round their guns, the marines were
drawn up and leaning on their muskets, and the frigate's bowsprit
pointed straight for her little victim.
"Is it the _Slapping Sal_, sir?"
"I have no doubt of it, Mr. Wharton."
"They don't seem to like the look of us, sir. They've cut their cable
and are clapping on sail."
It was evident that the brig meant struggling for her freedom.
One little patch of canvas fluttered out above another, and her people
could be seen working like madmen in the rigging. She made no attempt
to pass her antagonist, but headed up the estuary. The captain rubbed
"She's making for shoal water, Mr. Wharton, and we shall have to cut her
out, sir. She's a footy little brig, but I should have thought a
fore-and-after would have been more handy."
"It was a mutiny, sir."
"Yes, sir, I heard of it at Manilla: a bad business, sir. Captain and
two mates murdered. This Hudson, or Hairy Hudson as they call him, led
the mutiny. He's a Londoner, sir, and a cruel villain as ever walked."
"His next walk will be to Execution Dock, Mr. Wharton. She seems
heavily manned. I wish I could take twenty topmen out of her, but they
would be enough to corrupt the crew of the ark, Mr. Wharton."
Both officers were looking through their glasses at the brig. Suddenly
the lieutenant showed his teeth in a grin, while the captain flushed a
"That's Hairy Hudson on the after-rail, sir."
"The low, impertinent blackguard! He'll play some other antics before
we are done with him. Could you reach him with the long eighteen, Mr.
"Another cable length will do it, sir."
The brig yawed as they spoke, and as she came round a spurt of smoke
whiffed out from her quarter. It was a pure piece of bravado, for the
gun could scarce carry halfway. Then with a jaunty swing the little
ship came into the wind again, and shot round a fresh curve in the
"The water's shoaling rapidly, sir," repeated the second lieutenant.
"There's six fathoms by the chart."
"Four by the lead, sir."
"When we clear this point we shall see how we lie. Ha! I thought as
much! Lay her to, Mr. Wharton. Now we have got her at our mercy!"
The frigate was quite out of sight of the sea now at the head of this
river-like estuary. As she came round the curve the two shores were
seen to converge at a point about a mile distant. In the angle, as near
shore as she could get, the brig was lying with her broadside towards
her pursuer and a wisp of black cloth streaming from her mizzen.
The lean lieutenant, who had reappeared upon deck with a cutlass
strapped to his side and two pistols rammed into his belt, peered
curiously at the ensign.
"Is it the Jolly Rodger, sir?" he asked.
But the captain was furious.
"He may hang where his breeches are hanging before I have done with
him!" said he. "What boats will you want, Mr. Wharton?"
"We should do it with the launch and the jolly-boat."
"Take four and make a clean job of it. Pipe away the crews at once, and
I'll work her in and help you with the long eighteens."
With a rattle of ropes and a creaking of blocks the four boats splashed
into the water. Their crews clustered thickly into them: bare-footed
sailors, stolid marines, laughing middies, and in the sheets of each the
senior officers with their stern schoolmaster faces. The captain, his
elbows on the binnacle, still watched the distant brig. Her crew were
tricing up the boarding-netting, dragging round the starboard guns,
knocking new portholes for them, and making every preparation for a
desperate resistance. In the thick of it all a huge man, bearded to the
eyes, with a red nightcap upon his head, was straining and stooping and
hauling. The captain watched him with a sour smile, and then snapping
up his glass he turned upon his heel. For an instant he stood staring.
"Call back the boats!" he cried in his thin, creaking voice.
"Clear away for action there! Cast loose those main-deck guns.
Brace back the yards, Mr. Smeaton, and stand by to go about when she has
Round the curve of the estuary was coming a huge vessel. Her great
yellow bowsprit and white-winged figure-head were jutting out from the
cluster of palm trees, while high above them towered three immense masts
with the tricolour flag floating superbly from the mizzen. Round she
came, the deep-blue water creaming under her fore foot, until her long,
curving, black side, her line of shining copper beneath and of
snow-white hammocks above, and the thick clusters of men who peered over
her bulwarks were all in full view. Her lower yards were slung, her
ports triced up, and her guns run out all ready for action.
Lying behind one of the promontories of the island, the lookout men of
the _Gloire_ upon the shore had seen the _cul de sac_ into which the
British frigate was headed, so that Captain de Milon had served the
_Leda_ as Captain Johnson had the _Slapping Sal_.
But the splendid discipline of the British service was at its best in
such a crisis. The boats flew back; their crews clustered aboard; they
were swung up at the davits and the fall-ropes made fast. Hammocks were
brought up and stowed, bulkheads sent down, ports and magazines opened,
the fires put out in the galley, and the drums beat to quarters.
Swarms of men set the head-sails and brought the frigate round, while
the gun-crews threw off their jackets and shirts, tightened their belts,
and ran out their eighteen-pounders, peering through the open portholes
at the stately French man. The wind was very light. Hardly a ripple
showed itself upon the clear blue water, but the sails blew gently out
as the breeze came over the wooded banks. The Frenchman had gone about
also, and both ships were now heading slowly for the sea under
fore-and-aft canvas, the _Gloire_ a hundred yards in advance.
She luffed up to cross the _Leda's_ bows, but the British ship came
round also, and the two rippled slowly on in such a silence that the
ringing of the ramrods as the French marines drove home their charges
clanged quite loudly upon the ear.
"Not much sea-room, Mr. Wharton," remarked the captain.
"I have fought actions in less, sir."
"We must keep our distance and trust to our gunnery. She is very
heavily manned, and if she got alongside we might find ourselves in
"I see the shakoes of soldiers aboard other."
"Two companies of light infantry from Martinique. Now we have her!
Hard-a-port, and let her have it as we cross her stern!"
The keen eye of the little commander had seen the surface ripple, which
told of a passing breeze. He had used it to dart across the big
Frenchman and to rake her with every gun as he passed. But, once past
her, the _Leda_ had to come back into the wind to keep out of shoal
water. The manoeuvre brought her on to the starboard side of the
Frenchman, and the trim little frigate seemed to heel right over under
the crashing broadside which burst from the gaping ports. A moment
later her topmen were swarming aloft to set her top-sails and royals,
and she strove to cross the _Gloire's_ bows and rake her again. The
French captain, however, brought his frigate's head round, and the two
rode side by side within easy pistol-shot, pouring broadsides into each
other in one of those murderous duels which, could they all be recorded,
would mottle our charts with blood.
In that heavy tropical air, with so faint a breeze, the smoke formed a
thick bank round the two vessels, from which the topmasts only
protruded. Neither could see anything of its enemy save the throbs of
fire in the darkness, and the guns were sponged and trained and fired
into a dense wall of vapour. On the poop and the forecastle the
marines, in two little red lines, were pouring in their volleys, but
neither they nor the seamen-gunners could see what effect their fire was
having. Nor, indeed, could they tell how far they were suffering
themselves, for, standing at a gun, one could but hazily see that upon
the right and the left. But above the roar of the cannon came the
sharper sound of the piping shot, the crashing of riven planks, and the
occasional heavy thud as spar or block came hurtling on to the deck.
The lieutenants paced up and down the line of guns, while Captain
Johnson fanned the smoke away with his cocked-hat and peered eagerly
"This is rare, Bobby!" said he, as the lieutenant joined him.
Then, suddenly restraining himself, "What have we lost, Mr. Wharton?"
"Our maintopsail yard and our gaff, sir."
"Where's the flag?"
"Gone overboard, sir."
"They'll think we've struck! Lash a boat's ensign on the starboard arm
of the mizzen cross-jack-yard."
A round-shot dashed the binnacle to pieces between them. A second
knocked two marines into a bloody palpitating mash. For a moment the
smoke rose, and the English captain saw that his adversary's heavier
metal was producing a horrible effect. The _Leda_ was a shattered
wreck. Her deck was strewed with corpses. Several of her portholes
were knocked into one, and one of her eighteen-pounder guns had been
thrown right back on to her breech, and pointed straight up to the sky.
The thin line of marines still loaded and fired, but half the guns were
silent, and their crews were piled thickly round them.
"Stand by to repel boarders!" yelled the captain.
"Cutlasses, lads, cutlasses!" roared Wharton.
"Hold your volley till they touch!" cried the captain of marines.
The huge loom of the Frenchman was seen bursting through the smoke.
Thick clusters of boarders hung upon her sides and shrouds. A final
broad-side leapt from her ports, and the main-mast of the _Leda_,
snapping short off a few feet above the deck, spun into the air and
crashed down upon the port guns, killing ten men and putting the whole
battery out of action. An instant later the two ships scraped together,
and the starboard bower anchor of the _Gloire_ caught the mizzen-chains
of the _Leda_ upon the port side. With a yell the black swarm of
boarders steadied themselves for a spring.
But their feet were never to reach that blood-stained deck. From some
where there came a well-aimed whiff of grape, and another, and another.
The English marines and seamen, waiting with cutlass and musket behind
the silent guns, saw with amazement the dark masses thinning and
shredding away. At the same time the port broadside of the Frenchman
burst into a roar.
"Clear away the wreck!" roared the captain. "What the devil are they
"Get the guns clear!" panted the lieutenant. "We'll do them yet, boys!"
The wreckage was torn and hacked and splintered until first one gun and
then another roared into action again. The Frenchman's anchor had been
cut away, and the _Leda_ had worked herself free from that fatal hug.
But now, suddenly, there was a scurry up the shrouds of the _Gloire_,
and a hundred Englishmen were shouting themselves hoarse: "They're
running! They're running! They're running!"
And it was true. The Frenchman had ceased to fire, and was intent only
upon clapping on every sail that he could carry. But that shouting
hundred could not claim it all as their own. As the smoke cleared it
was not difficult to see the reason. The ships had gained the mouth of
the estuary during the fight, and there, about four miles out to sea,
was the _Leda's_ consort bearing down under full sail to the sound of
the guns. Captain de Milon had done his part for one day, and presently
the _Gloire_ was drawing off swiftly to the north, while the _Dido_ was
bowling along at her skirts, rattling away with her bow-chasers, until a
headland hid them both from view.
But the Leda lay sorely stricken, with her mainmast gone, her bulwarks
shattered, her mizzen-topmast and gaff shot away, her sails like a
beggar's rags, and a hundred of her crew dead and wounded. Close beside
her a mass of wreckage floated upon the waves. It was the stern-post of
a mangled vessel, and across it, in white letters on a black ground, was
printed, "_The Slapping Sal_."
"By the Lord! it was the brig that saved us!" cried Mr. Wharton.
"Hudson brought her into action with the Frenchman, and was blown out of
the water by a broadside!"
The little captain turned on his heel and paced up and down the deck.
Already his crew were plugging the shot-holes, knotting and splicing and
mending. When he came back, the lieutenant saw a softening of the stern
lines about his eyes and mouth.
"Are they all gone?"
"Every man. They must have sunk with the wreck."
The two officers looked down at the sinister name, and at the stump of
wreckage which floated in the discoloured water. Something black washed
to and fro beside a splintered gaff and a tangle of halliards. It was
the outrageous ensign, and near it a scarlet cap was floating.
"He was a villain, but he was a Briton!" said the captain at last.
"He lived like a dog, but, by God, he died like a man!"
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