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Chapter 3 How the Brigadier Held the King

  • Here, upon the lapel of my coat, you may see the ribbon of my decoration, bu_he medal itself I keep in a leathern pouch at home, and I never venture t_ake it out unless one of the modern peace generals, or some foreigner o_istinction who finds himself in our little town, takes advantage of th_pportunity to pay his respects to the well-known Brigadier Gerard. Then _lace it upon my breast, and I give my moustache the old Marengo twist whic_rings a grey point into either eye. Yet with it all I fear that neither they, nor you either, my friends, will ever realize the man that I was. You know m_nly as a civilian—with an air and a manner, it is true—but still merely as _ivilian. Had you seen me as I stood in the doorway of the inn at Alamo, o_he 1st of July, in the year 1810, you would then have known what the hussa_ay attain to.
  • For a month I had lingered in that accursed village, and all on account of _ance-thrust in my ankle, which made it impossible for me to put my foot t_he ground. There were three besides myself at first: old Bouvet, of th_ussars of Bercheny, Jacques Regnier, of the Cuirassiers, and a funny littl_oltigeur captain whose name I forget; but they all got well and hurried on t_he front, while I sat gnawing my fingers and tearing my hair, and even, _ust confess, weeping from time to time as I thought of my Hussars o_onflans, and the deplorable condition in which they must find themselves whe_eprived of their colonel. I was not a chief of brigade yet, you understand, although I already carried myself like one, but I was the youngest colonel i_he whole service, and my regiment was wife and children to me. It went to m_eart that they should be so bereaved. It is true that Villaret, the senio_ajor, was an excellent soldier; but still, even among the best there ar_egrees of merit.
  • Ah, that happy July day of which I speak, when first I limped to the door an_tood in the golden Spanish sunshine! It was but the evening before that I ha_eard from the regiment. They were at Pastores, on the other side of th_ountains, face to face with the English—not forty miles from me by road. Bu_ow was I to get to them? The same thrust which had pierced my ankle had slai_y charger. I took advice both from Gomez, the landlord, and from an ol_riest who had slept that night in the inn, but neither of them could do mor_han assure me that there was not so much as a colt left upon the whol_ountryside.
  • The landlord would not hear of my crossing the mountains without an escort, for he assured me that El Cuchillo, the Spanish guerilla chief, was out tha_ay with his band, and that it meant a death by torture to fall into hi_ands. The old priest observed, however, that he did not think a French hussa_ould be deterred by that, and if I had had any doubts, they would of cours_ave been decided by his remark.
  • But a horse! How was I to get one? I was standing in the doorway, plotting an_lanning, when I heard the clink of shoes, and, looking up, I saw a grea_earded man, with a blue cloak frogged across in military fashion, comin_owards me. He was riding a big black horse with one white stocking on hi_ear fore-leg.
  • 'Halloa, comrade!' said I, as he came up to me.
  • 'Halloa!' said he.
  • 'I am Colonel Gerard, of the Hussars,' said I. 'I have lain here wounded for _onth, and I am now ready to rejoin my regiment at Pastores.'
  • 'I am Monsieur Vidal, of the commissariat,' he answered, 'and I am myself upo_y way to Pastores. I should be glad to have your company, Colonel, for I hea_hat the mountains are far from safe.'
  • 'Alas,' said I, 'I have no horse. But if you will sell me yours, I wil_romise that an escort of hussars shall be sent back for you.'
  • He would not hear of it, and it was in vain that the landlord told hi_readful stories of the doings of El Cuchillo, and that I pointed out the dut_hich he owed to the army and to the country. He would not even argue, bu_alled loudly for a cup of wine. I craftily asked him to dismount and to drin_ith me, but he must have seen something in my face, for he shook his head; and then, as I approached him with some thought of seizing him by the leg, h_erked his heels into his horse's flanks, and was off in a cloud of dust.
  • My faith! it was enough to make a man mad to see this fellow riding away s_aily to join his beef-barrels, and his brandy-casks, and then to think of m_ive hundred beautiful hussars without their leader. I was gazing after hi_ith bitter thoughts in my mind, when who should touch me on the elbow but th_ittle priest whom I have mentioned.
  • 'It is I who can help you,' he said. 'I am myself travelling south.'
  • I put my arms about him and, as my ankle gave way at the same moment, w_early rolled upon the ground together.
  • 'Get me to Pastores,' I cried, 'and you shall have a rosary of golden beads.'
  • I had taken one from the Convent of Spiritu Santo. It shows how necessary i_s to take what you can when you are upon a campaign, and how the mos_nlikely things may become useful.
  • 'I will take you,' he said, in very excellent French, 'not because I hope fo_ny reward, but because it is my way always to do what I can to serve m_ellow-man, and that is why I am so beloved wherever I go.'
  • With that he led me down the village to an old cow-house, in which we found _umble-down sort of diligence, such as they used to run early in this century, between some of our remote villages. There were three old mules, too, none o_hich were strong enough to carry a man, but together they might draw th_oach. The sight of their gaunt ribs and spavined legs gave me more deligh_han the whole two hundred and twenty hunters of the Emperor which I have see_n their stalls at Fontainebleau. In ten minutes the owner was harnessing the_nto the coach, with no very good will, however, for he was in mortal dread o_his terrible Cuchillo. It was only by promising him riches in this world, while the priest threatened him with perdition in the next, that we at las_ot him safely upon the box with the reins between his fingers. Then he was i_uch a hurry to get off, out of fear lest we should find ourselves in the dar_n the passes, that he hardly gave me time to renew my vows to the innkeeper'_aughter. I cannot at this moment recall her name, but we wept together as w_arted, and I can remember that she was a very beautiful woman. You wil_nderstand, my friends, that when a man like me, who has fought the men an_issed the women in fourteen separate kingdoms, gives a word of praise to th_ne or the other, it has a little meaning of its own.
  • The little priest had seemed a trifle grave when we kissed good-bye, but h_oon proved himself the best of companions in the diligence. All the way h_mused me with tales of his little parish up in the mountains, and I in m_urn told him stories about the camp; but, my faith, I had to pick my steps, for when I said a word too much he would fidget in his seat and his face woul_how the pain that I had given him. And of course it is not the act of _entleman to talk in anything but a proper manner to a religious man, though, with all the care in the world, one's words may get out of hand sometimes.
  • He had come from the north of Spain, as he told me, and was going to see hi_other in a village of Estremadura, and as he spoke about her little peasan_ome, and her joy in seeing him, it brought my own mother so vividly to m_houghts that the tears started to my eyes. In his simplicity he showed me th_ittle gifts which he was taking to her, and so kindly was his manner that _ould readily believe him when he said he was loved wherever he went. H_xamined my own uniform with as much curiosity as a child, admiring the plum_f my busby, and passing his fingers through the sable with which my dolma_as trimmed. He drew my sword, too, and then when I told him how many men _ad cut down with it, and set my finger on the notch made by the shoulder-bon_f the Russian Emperor's aide-de-camp, he shuddered and placed the weapo_nder the leathern cushion, declaring that it made him sick to look at it.
  • Well, we had been rolling and creaking on our way whilst this talk had bee_oing forward, and as we reached the base of the mountains we could hear th_umbling of cannon far away upon the right. This came from Massena, who was, as I knew, besieging Ciudad Rodrigo. There was nothing I should have wishe_etter than to have gone straight to him, for if, as some said, he had Jewis_lood in his veins, he was the best Jew that I have heard of since Joshua'_ime. If you were in sight of his beaky nose and bold, black eyes, you wer_ot likely to miss much of what was going on. Still, a siege is always a poo_ort of a pick-and-shovel business, and there were better prospects with m_ussars in front of the English. Every mile that passed, my heart grew lighte_nd lighter, until I found myself shouting and singing like a young ensig_resh from St Cyr, just to think of seeing all my fine horses and my gallan_ellows once more.
  • As we penetrated the mountains the road grew rougher and the pass more savage.
  • At first we had met a few muleteers, but now the whole country seeme_eserted, which is not to be wondered at when you think that the French, th_nglish, and the guerillas had each in turn had command over it. So bleak an_ild was it, one great brown wrinkled cliff succeeding another, and the pas_rowing narrower and narrower, that I ceased to look out, but sat in silence, thinking of this and that, of women whom I had loved and of horses which I ha_andled. I was suddenly brought back from my dreams, however, by observing th_ifficulties of my companion, who was trying with a sort of brad-awl, which h_ad drawn out, to bore a hole through the leathern strap which held up hi_ater-flask. As he worked with twitching fingers the strap escaped his grasp, and the wooden bottle fell at my feet. I stooped to pick it up, and as I di_o the priest silently leaped upon my shoulders and drove his brad-awl into m_ye!
  • My friends, I am, as you know, a man steeled to face every danger. When on_as served from the affair of Zurich to that last fatal day of Waterloo, an_as had the special medal, which I keep at home in a leathern pouch, one ca_fford to confess when one is frightened. It may console some of you, whe_our own nerves play you tricks, to remember that you have heard even me, Brigadier Gerard, say that I have been scared. And besides my terror at thi_orrible attack, and the maddening pain of my wound, there was a sudde_eeling of loathing such as you might feel were some filthy tarantula t_trike its fangs into you.
  • I clutched the creature in both hands, and, hurling him on to the floor of th_oach, I stamped on him with my heavy boots. He had drawn a pistol from th_ront of his soutane, but I kicked it out of his hand, and again I fell wit_y knees upon his chest. Then, for the first time, he screamed horribly, whil_, half blinded, felt about for the sword which he had so cunningly concealed.
  • My hand had just lighted upon it, and I was dashing the blood from my face t_ee where he lay that I might transfix him, when the whole coach turned partl_ver upon its side, and my weapon was jerked out of my grasp by the shock.
  • Before I could recover myself the door was burst open, and I was dragged b_he heels on to the road. But even as I was torn out on to the flint stones, and realized that thirty ruffians were standing around me, I was filled wit_oy, for my pelisse had been pulled over my head in the struggle and wa_overing one of my eyes, and it was with my wounded eye that I was seeing thi_ang of brigands. You see for yourself by this pucker and scar how the thi_lade passed between socket and ball, but it was only at that moment, when _as dragged from the coach, that I understood that my sight was not gone fo_ver. The creature's intention, doubtless, was to drive it through into m_rain, and indeed he loosened some portion of the inner bone of my head, s_hat I afterwards had more trouble from that wound than from any one of th_eventeen which I have received.
  • They dragged me out, these sons of dogs, with curses and execrations, beatin_e with their fists and kicking me as I lay upon the ground. I had frequentl_bserved that the mountaineers wore cloth swathed round their feet, but neve_id I imagine that I should have so much cause to be thankful for it.
  • Presently, seeing the blood upon my head, and that I lay quiet, they though_hat I was unconscious, whereas I was storing every ugly face among them int_y memory, so that I might see them all safely hanged if ever my chance cam_ound. Brawny rascals they were, with yellow handkerchiefs round their heads, and great red sashes stuffed with weapons. They had rolled two rocks acros_he path, where it took a sharp turn, and it was these which had torn off on_f the wheels of the coach and upset us. As to this reptile, who had acted th_riest so cleverly and had told me so much of his parish and his mother, he, of course, had known where the ambuscade was laid, and had attempted to put m_eyond all resistance at the moment when we reached it.
  • I cannot tell you how frantic their rage was when they drew him out of th_oach and saw the state to which I had reduced him. If he had not got all hi_eserts, he had, at least, something as a souvenir of his meeting with Etienn_erard, for his legs dangled aimlessly about, and though the upper part of hi_ody was convulsed with rage and pain, he sat straight down upon his feet whe_hey tried to set him upright. But all the time his two little black eyes, which had seemed so kindly and so innocent in the coach, were glaring at m_ike a wounded cat, and he spat, and spat, and spat in my direction. My faith!
  • when the wretches jerked me on to my feet again, and when I was dragged off u_ne of the mountain paths, I understood that a time was coming when I was t_eed all my courage and resource. My enemy was carried upon the shoulders o_wo men behind me, and I could hear his hissing and his reviling, first in on_ar and then in the other, as I was hurried up the winding track.
  • I suppose that it must have been for an hour that we ascended, and what wit_y wounded ankle and the pain from my eye, and the fear lest this wound shoul_ave spoiled my appearance, I have made no journey to which I look back wit_ess pleasure. I have never been a good climber at any time, but it i_stonishing what you can do, even with a stiff ankle, when you have a copper- coloured brigand at each elbow and a nine-inch blade within touch of you_hiskers.
  • We came at last to a place where the path wound over a ridge, and descende_pon the other side through thick pine-trees into a valley which opened to th_outh. In time of peace I had little doubt that the villains were al_mugglers, and that these were the secret paths by which they crossed th_ortuguese frontier. There were many mule-tracks, and once I was surprised t_ee the marks of a large horse where a stream had softened the track. Thes_ere explained when, on reaching a place where there was a clearing in the fi_ood, I saw the animal itself haltered to a fallen tree. My eyes had hardl_ested upon it, when I recognized the great black limbs and the white nea_ore-leg. It was the very horse which I had begged for in the morning.
  • What, then, had become of Commissariat Vidal? Was it possible that there wa_nother Frenchman in as perilous a plight as myself? The thought had hardl_ntered my head when our party stopped and one of them uttered a peculiar cry.
  • It was answered from among the brambles which lined the base of a cliff at on_ide of a clearing, and an instant later ten or a dozen more brigands came ou_rom amongst them, and the two parties greeted each other. The new-comer_urrounded my friend of the brad-awl with cries of grief and sympathy, an_hen, turning upon me, they brandished their knives and howled at me like th_ang of assassins that they were. So frantic were their gestures that I wa_onvinced that my end had come, and was just bracing myself to meet it in _anner which should be worthy of my past reputation, when one of them gave a_rder and I was dragged roughly across the little glade to the brambles fro_hich this new band had emerged.
  • A narrow pathway led through them to a deep grotto in the side of the cliff.
  • The sun was already setting outside, and in the cave itself it would have bee_uite dark but for a pair of torches which blazed from a socket on eithe_ide. Between them there was sitting at a rude table a very singular-lookin_erson, whom I saw instantly, from the respect with which the others addresse_im, could be none other than the brigand chief who had received, on accoun_f his dreadful character, the sinister name of El Cuchillo.
  • The man whom I had injured had been carried in and placed upon the top of _arrel, his helpless legs dangling about in front of him, and his cat's eye_till darting glances of hatred at me. I understood, from the snatches of tal_hich I could follow between the chief and him, that he was the lieutenant o_he band, and that part of his duties was to lie in wait with his smoot_ongue and his peaceful garb for travellers like myself. When I thought of ho_any gallant officers may have been lured to their death by this monster o_ypocrisy, it gave me a glow of pleasure to think that I had brought hi_illainies to an end—though I feared it would be at the price of a life whic_either the Emperor nor the army could well spare.
  • As the injured man still supported upon the barrel by two comrades, wa_xplaining in Spanish all that had befallen him, I was held by several of th_illains in front of the table at which the chief was seated, and had a_xcellent opportunity of observing him. I have seldom seen any man who wa_ess like my idea of a brigand, and especially of a brigand with such _eputation that in a land of cruelty he had earned so dark a nickname. Hi_ace was bluff and broad and bland, with ruddy cheeks and comfortable littl_ufts of side-whiskers, which gave him the appearance of a well-to-do groce_f the Rue St Antoine. He had not any of those flaring sashes or gleamin_eapons which distinguished his followers, but on the contrary he wore a goo_roadcloth coat like a respectable father of a family, and save for his brow_eggings there was nothing to indicate a life among the mountains. Hi_urroundings, too, corresponded with himself, and beside his snuff-box upo_he table there stood a great brown book, which looked like a commercia_edger. Many other books were ranged along a plank between two powder-casks, and there was a great litter of papers, some of which had verses scribble_pon them. All this I took in while he, leaning indolently back in his chair, was listening to the report of his lieutenant. Having heard everything, h_rdered the cripple to be carried out again, and I was left with my thre_uards, waiting to hear my fate. He took up his pen, and tapping his forehea_ith the handle of it, he pursed up his lips and looked out of the corner o_is eyes at the roof of the grotto.
  • 'I suppose,' said he at last, speaking very excellent French, 'that you ar_ot able to suggest a rhyme for the word Covilha.'
  • I answered him that my acquaintance with the Spanish language was so limite_hat I was unable to oblige him.
  • 'It is a rich language,' said he, 'but less prolific in rhymes than either th_erman or the English. That is why our best work has been done in blank verse, a form of composition which is capable of reaching great heights. But I fea_hat such subjects are somewhat outside the range of a hussar.'
  • I was about to answer that if they were good enough for a guerilla, they coul_ot be too much for the light cavalry, but he was already stooping over hi_alf-finished verse. Presently he threw down the pen with an exclamation o_atisfaction, and declaimed a few lines which drew a cry of approval from th_hree ruffians who held me. His broad face blushed like a young girl wh_eceives her first compliment.
  • 'The critics are in my favour, it appears,' said he; 'we amuse ourselves i_ur long evenings by singing our own ballads, you understand. I have som_ittle facility in that direction, and I do not at all despair of seeing som_f my poor efforts in print before long, and with "Madrid" upon the title- page, too. But we must get back to business. May I ask what your name is?'
  • 'Etienne Gerard.'
  • 'Rank?'
  • 'Colonel.'
  • 'Corps?'
  • 'The Third Hussars of Conflans.'
  • 'You are young for a colonel.'
  • 'My career has been an eventful one.'
  • 'Tut, that makes it the sadder,' said he, with his bland smile.
  • I made no answer to that, but I tried to show him by my bearing that I wa_eady for the worst which could befall me.
  • 'By the way, I rather fancy that we have had some of your corps here,' sai_e, turning over the pages of his big brown register. 'We endeavour to keep _ecord of our operations. Here is a heading under June 24th. Have you not _oung officer named Soubiron, a tall, slight youth with light hair?'
  • 'Certainly.'
  • 'I see that we buried him upon that date.'
  • 'Poor lad!' I cried. 'And how did he die?'
  • 'We buried him.'
  • 'But before you buried him?'
  • 'You misunderstand me, Colonel. He was not dead before we buried him.'
  • 'You buried him alive!'
  • For a moment I was too stunned to act. Then I hurled myself upon the man, a_e sat with that placid smile of his upon his lips, and I would have torn hi_hroat out had the three wretches not dragged me away from him. Again an_gain I made for him, panting and cursing, shaking off this man and that, straining and wrenching, but never quite free. At last, with my jacket tor_early off my back and blood dripping from my wrists, I was hauled backward_n the bight of a rope and cords passed round my ankles and my arms.
  • 'You sleek hound!' I cried. 'If ever I have you at my sword's point, I wil_each you to maltreat one of my lads. You will find, you bloodthirsty beast, that my Emperor has long arms, and though you lie here like a rat in its hole, the time will come when he will tear you out of it, and you and your vermi_ill perish together.'
  • My faith, I have a rough side to my tongue, and there was not a hard word tha_ had learned in fourteen campaigns which I did not let fly at him; but he sa_ith the handle of his pen tapping against his forehead and his eyes squintin_p at the roof as if he had conceived the idea of some new stanza. It was thi_ccupation of his which showed me how I might get my point into him.
  • 'You spawn!' said I; 'you think that you are safe here, but your life may b_s short as that of your absurd verses, and God knows that it could not b_horter than that.'
  • Ah, you should have seen him bound from his chair when I said the words. Thi_ile monster, who dispensed death and torture as a grocer serves out his figs, had one raw nerve then which I could prod at pleasure. His face grew livid, and those little bourgeois side-whiskers quivered and thrilled with passion.
  • 'Very good, Colonel. You have said enough,' he cried, in a choking voice. 'Yo_ay that you have had a very distinguished career. I promise you also a ver_istinguished ending. Colonel Etienne Gerard of the Third Hussars shall have _eath of his own.'
  • 'And I only beg,' said I, 'that you will not commemorate it in verse.' I ha_ne or two little ironies to utter, but he cut me short by a furious gestur_hich caused my three guards to drag me from the cave.
  • Our interview, which I have told you as nearly as I can remember it, must hav_asted some time, for it was quite dark when we came out, and the moon wa_hining very clearly in the heavens. The brigands had lighted a great fire o_he dried branches of the fir-trees; not, of course, for warmth, since th_ight was already very sultry, but to cook their evening meal. A huge coppe_ot hung over the blaze, and the rascals were lying all round in the yello_lare, so that the scene looked like one of those pictures which Junot stol_ut of Madrid. There are some soldiers who profess to care nothing for art an_he like, but I have always been drawn towards it myself, in which respect _how my good taste and my breeding. I remember, for example, that whe_efebvre was selling the plunder after the fall of Danzig, I bought a ver_ine picture, called 'Nymphs Surprised in a Wood,' and I carried it with m_hrough two campaigns, until my charger had the misfortune to put his hoo_hrough it.
  • I only tell you this, however, to show you that I was never a mere roug_oldier like Rapp or Ney. As I lay in that brigands' camp, I had little tim_r inclination to think about such matters. They had thrown me down under _ree, the three villains squatting round and smoking their cigarettes withi_ands' touch of me. What to do I could not imagine. In my whole career I d_ot suppose that I have ten times been in as hopeless a situation. 'Bu_ourage,' thought I. 'Courage, my brave boy! You were not made a Colonel o_ussars at twenty-eight because you could dance a cotillon. You are a picke_an, Etienne; a man who has come through more than two hundred affairs, an_his little one is surely not going to be the last.' I began eagerly to glanc_bout for some chance of escape, and as I did so I saw something which fille_e with great astonishment.
  • I have already told you that a large fire was burning in the centre of th_lade. What with its glare, and what with the moonlight, everything was a_lear as possible. On the other side of the glade there was a single tall fir- tree which attracted my attention because its trunk and lower branches wer_iscoloured, as if a large fire had recently been lit underneath it. A clum_f bushes grew in front of it which concealed the base. Well, as I looke_owards it, I was surprised to see projecting above the bush, and fastene_pparently to the tree, a pair of fine riding boots with the toes upwards. A_irst I thought that they were tied there, but as I looked harder I saw tha_hey were secured by a great nail which was hammered through the foot of each.
  • And then, suddenly, with a thrill of horror, I understood that these were no_mpty boots; and moving my head a little to the right, I was able to see wh_t was that had been fastened there, and why a fire had been lit beneath th_ree. It is not pleasant to speak or to think of horrors, my friends, and I d_ot wish to give any of you bad dreams tonight—but I cannot take you among th_panish guerillas without showing you what kind of men they were, and the sor_f warfare that they waged. I will only say that I understood why Monsieu_idal's horse was waiting masterless in the grove, and that I hoped he had me_his terrible fate with sprightliness and courage, as a good Frenchman ought.
  • It was not a very cheering sight for me, as you can imagine. When I had bee_ith their chief in the grotto I had been so carried away by my rage at th_ruel death of young Soubiron, who was one of the brightest lads who eve_hrew his thigh over a charger, that I had never given a thought to my ow_osition. Perhaps it would have been more politic had I spoken the ruffia_air, but it was too late now. The cork was drawn and I must drain the wine.
  • Besides, if the harmless commissariat man were put to such a death, what hop_as there for me, who had snapped the spine of their lieutenant? No, I wa_oomed in any case, and it was as well perhaps that I should have put the bes_ace on the matter. This beast could bear witness that Etienne Gerard had die_s he had lived, and that one prisoner at least had not quailed before him. _ay there thinking of the various girls who would mourn for me, and of my dea_ld mother, and of the deplorable loss which I should be, both to my regimen_nd to the Emperor, and I am not ashamed to confess to you that I shed tear_s I thought of the general consternation which my premature end would giv_ise to.
  • But all the time I was taking the very keenest notice of everything whic_ight possibly help me. I am not a man who would lie like a sick horse waitin_or the farrier sergeant and the pole-axe. First I would give a little tug a_y ankle cords, and then another at those which were round my wrists, and al_he time that I was trying to loosen them I was peering round to see if _ould find something which was in my favour. There was one thing which wa_ery evident. A hussar is but half formed without a horse, and there was m_ther half quietly grazing within thirty yards of me. Then I observed ye_nother thing. The path by which we had come over the mountains was so stee_hat a horse could only be led across it slowly and with difficulty, but i_he other direction the ground appeared to be more open, and to lead straigh_own into a gently-sloping valley. Had I but my feet in yonder stirrups and m_abre in my hand, a single bold dash might take me out of the power of thes_ermin of the rocks.
  • I was still thinking it over and straining with my wrists and my ankles, whe_heir chief came out from his grotto, and after some talk with his lieutenant, who lay groaning near the fire, they both nodded their heads and looked acros_t me. He then said some few words to the band, who clapped their hands an_aughed uproariously. Things looked ominous, and I was delighted to feel tha_y hands were so far free that I could easily slip them through the cords if _ished. But with my ankles I feared that I could do nothing, for when _trained it brought such pain into my lance-wound that I had to gnaw m_oustache to keep from crying out. I could only lie still, half-free and half- bound, and see what turn things were likely to take.
  • For a little I could not make out what they were after. One of the rascal_limbed up a well-grown fir-tree upon one side of the glade, and tied a rop_ound the top of the trunk. He then fastened another rope in the same fashio_o a similar tree upon the other side. The two loose ends were now danglin_own, and I waited with some curiosity, and just a little trepidation also, t_ee what they would do next. The whole band pulled upon one of the ropes unti_hey had bent the strong young tree down into a semi-circle, and they the_astened it to a stump, so as to hold it so. When they had bent the other tre_own in a similar fashion, the two summits were within a few feet of eac_ther, though, as you understand, they would each spring back into thei_riginal position the instant that they were released. I already saw th_iabolical plan which these miscreants had formed.
  • 'I presume that you are a strong man, Colonel,' said the chief, coming toward_e with his hateful smile.
  • 'If you will have the kindness to loosen these cords,' I answered, 'I wil_how you how strong I am.'
  • 'We were all interested to see whether you were as strong as these two youn_aplings,' said he. 'It is our intention, you see, to tie one end of each rop_ound your ankles and then let the trees go. If you are stronger than th_rees, then, of course, no harm would be done; if, on the other hand, th_rees are stronger than you, why, in that case, Colonel, we may have _ouvenir of you upon each side of our little glade.'
  • He laughed as he spoke, and at the sight of it the whole forty of them laughe_lso. Even now if I am in my darker humour, or if I have a touch of my ol_ithuanian ague, I see in my sleep that ring of dark, savage faces, with thei_ruel eyes, and the firelight flashing upon their strong white teeth.
  • It is astonishing—and I have heard many make the same remark—how acute one'_enses become at such a crisis as this. I am convinced that at no moment i_ne living so vividly, so acutely, as at the instant when a violent an_oreseen death overtakes one. I could smell the resinous fagots, I could se_very twig upon the ground, I could hear every rustle of the branches, as _ave never smelled or seen or heard save at such times of danger. And so i_as that long before anyone else, before even the time when the chief ha_ddressed me, I had heard a low, monotonous sound, far away indeed, and ye_oming nearer at every instant. At first it was but a murmur, a rumble, but b_he time he had finished speaking, while the assassins were untying my ankle_n order to lead me to the scene of my murder, I heard, as plainly as ever _eard anything in my life, the clinking of horseshoes and the jingling o_ridle-chains, with the clank of sabres against stirrup-irons. Is it likel_hat I, who had lived with the light cavalry since the first hair shaded m_ip, would mistake the sound of troopers on the march?
  • 'Help, comrades, help!' I shrieked, and though they struck me across the mout_nd tried to drag me up to the trees, I kept on yelling, 'Help me, my brav_oys! Help me, my children! They are murdering your colonel!'
  • For the moment my wounds and my troubles had brought on a delirium, and _ooked for nothing less than my five hundred hussars, kettle-drums and all, t_ppear at the opening of the glade.
  • But that which really appeared was very different to anything which I ha_onceived. Into the clear space there came galloping a fine young man upon _ost beautiful roan horse. He was fresh-faced and pleasant-looking, with th_ost debonair bearing in the world and the most gallant way of carryin_imself—a way which reminded me somewhat of my own. He wore a singular coa_hich had once been red all over, but which was now stained to the colour of _ithered oak-leaf wherever the weather could reach it. His shoulder-straps, however, were of golden lace, and he had a bright metal helmet upon his head, with a coquettish white plume upon one side of its crest. He trotted his hors_p the glade, while behind him rode four cavaliers in the same dress—al_lean-shaven, with round, comely faces, looking to me more like monks tha_ragoons. At a short, gruff order they halted with a rattle of arms, whil_heir leader cantered forward, the fire beating upon his eager face and th_eautiful head of his charger. I knew, of course, by the strange coats tha_hey were English. It was the first sight that I had ever had of them, bu_rom their stout bearing and their masterful way I could see at a glance tha_hat I had always been told was true, and that they were excellent people t_ight against.
  • 'Well, well, well!' cried the young officer, in sufficiently bad French, 'wha_ame are you up to here? Who was that who was yelling for help, and what ar_ou trying to do to him?'
  • It was at that moment that I learned to bless those months which Obriant, th_escendant of the Irish kings, had spent in teaching me the tongue of th_nglish. My ankles had just been freed, so that I had only to slip my hand_ut of the cords, and with a single rush I had flown across, picked up m_abre where it lay by the fire, and hurled myself on to the saddle of poo_idal's horse. Yes, for all my wounded ankle, I never put foot to stirrup, bu_as in the seat in a single bound. I tore the halter from the tree, and befor_hese villains could so much as snap a pistol at me I was beside the Englis_fficer.
  • 'I surrender to you, sir,' I cried; though I daresay my English was not ver_uch better than his French. 'If you will look at that tree to the left yo_ill see what these villains do to the honourable gentlemen who fall int_heir hands.'
  • The fire had flared up at that moment, and there was poor Vidal exposed befor_hem, as horrible an object as one could see in a nightmare. 'Godam!' crie_he officer, and 'Godam!' cried each of the four troopers, which is the sam_s with us when we cry 'Mon Dieu!' Out rasped the five swords, and the fou_en closed up. One, who wore a sergeant's chevrons, laughed and clapped me o_he shoulder.
  • 'Fight for your skin, froggy,' said he.
  • Ah, it was so fine to have a horse between my thighs and a weapon in my grip.
  • I waved it above my head and shouted in my exultation. The chief had com_orward with that odious smiling face of his.
  • 'Your excellency will observe that this Frenchman is our prisoner,' said he.
  • 'You are a rascally robber,' said the Englishman, shaking his sword at him.
  • 'It is a disgrace to us to have such allies. By my faith, if Lord Wellingto_ere of my mind we would swing you up on the nearest tree.'
  • 'But my prisoner?' said the brigand, in his suave voice.
  • 'He shall come with us to the British camp.'
  • 'Just a word in your ear before you take him.'
  • He approached the young officer, and then turning as quick as a flash, h_ired his pistol in my face. The bullet scored its way through my hair an_urst a hole on each side of my busby. Seeing that he had missed me, he raise_he pistol and was about to hurl it at me when the English sergeant, with _ingle back-handed cut, nearly severed his head from his body. His blood ha_ot reached the ground, nor the last curse died on his lips, before the whol_orde was upon us, but with a dozen bounds and as many slashes we were al_afely out of the glade, and galloping down the winding track which led to th_alley.
  • It was not until we had left the ravine far behind us and were right out i_he open fields that we ventured to halt, and to see what injuries we ha_ustained. For me, wounded and weary as I was, my heart was beating proudly, and my chest was nearly bursting my tunic to think that I, Etienne Gerard, ha_eft this gang of murderers so much by which to remember me. My faith, the_ould think twice before they ventured again to lay hands upon one of th_hird Hussars. So carried away was I that I made a small oration to thes_rave Englishmen, and told them who it was that they had helped to rescue. _ould have spoken of glory also, and of the sympathies of brave men, but th_fficer cut me short.
  • 'That's all right,' said he. 'Any injuries, Sergeant?'
  • 'Trooper Jones's horse hit with a pistol bullet on the fetlock.'
  • 'Trooper Jones to go with us. Sergeant Halliday, with troopers Harvey an_mith, to keep to the right until they touch the vedettes of the Germa_ussars.'
  • So these three jingled away together, while the officer and I, followed a_ome distance by the trooper whose horse had been wounded, rode straight dow_n the direction of the English camp. Very soon we had opened our hearts, fo_e each liked the other from the beginning. He was of the nobility, this brav_ad, and he had been sent out scouting by Lord Wellington to see if there wer_ny signs of our advancing through the mountains. It is one advantage of _andering life like mine, that you learn to pick up those bits of knowledg_hich distinguish the man of the world. I have, for example, hardly ever met _renchman who could repeat an English title correctly. If I had not travelle_ should not be able to say with confidence that this young man's real nam_as Milor the Hon. Sir Russell, Bart., this last being an honourabl_istinction, so that it was as the Bart that I usually addressed him, just a_n Spanish one might say 'the Don.'
  • As we rode beneath the moonlight in the lovely Spanish night, we spoke ou_inds to each other, as if we were brothers. We were both of an age, you see, both of the light cavalry also (the Sixteenth Light Dragoons was hi_egiment), and both with the same hopes and ambitions. Never have I learned t_now a man so quickly as I did the Bart. He gave me the name of a girl whom h_ad loved at a garden called Vauxhall, and, for my own part, I spoke to him o_ittle Coralie, of the Opera. He took a lock of hair from his bosom, and I _arter. Then we nearly quarrelled over hussar and dragoon, for he was absurdl_roud of his regiment, and you should have seen him curl his lip and clap hi_and to his hilt when I said that I hoped it might never be its misfortune t_ome in the way of the Third. Finally, he began to speak about what th_nglish call sport, and he told such stories of the money which he had los_ver which of two cocks could kill the other, or which of two men could strik_he other the most in a fight for a prize, that I was filled wit_stonishment. He was ready to bet upon anything in the most wonderful manner, and when I chanced to see a shooting star he was anxious to bet that he woul_ee more than me, twenty-five francs a star, and it was only when I explaine_hat my purse was in the hands of the brigands that he would give over th_dea.
  • Well, we chatted away in this very amiable fashion until the day began t_reak, when suddenly we heard a great volley of musketry from somewhere i_ront of us. It was very rocky and broken ground, and I thought, although _ould see nothing, that a general engagement had broken out. The Bart laughe_t my idea, however, and explained that the sound came from the English camp, where every man emptied his piece each morning so as to make sure of having _ry priming.
  • 'In another mile we shall be up with the outposts,' said he.
  • I glanced round at this, and I perceived that we had trotted along at so goo_ pace during the time that we were keeping up our pleasant chat, that th_ragoon with the lame horse was altogether out of sight. I looked on ever_ide, but in the whole of that vast rocky valley there was no one save onl_he Bart and I—both of us armed, you understand, and both of us well mounted.
  • I began to ask myself whether after all it was quite necessary that I shoul_ide that mile which would bring me to the British outposts.
  • Now, I wish to be very clear with you on this point, my friends, for I woul_ot have you think that I was acting dishonourably or ungratefully to the ma_ho had helped me away from the brigands. You must remember that of all dutie_he strongest is that which a commanding officer owes to his men. You mus_lso bear in mind that war is a game which is played under fixed rules, an_hen these rules are broken one must at once claim the forfeit. If, fo_xample, I had given a parole, then I should have been an infamous wretch ha_ dreamed of escaping. But no parole had been asked of me. Out of over- confidence, and the chance of the lame horse dropping behind, the Bart ha_ermitted me to get upon equal terms with him. Had it been I who had take_im, I should have used him as courteously as he had me, but, at the sam_ime, I should have respected his enterprise so far as to have deprived him o_is sword, and seen that I had at least one guard beside myself. I reined u_y horse and explained this to him, asking him at the same time whether he sa_ny breach of honour in my leaving him.
  • He thought about it, and several times repeated that which the English sa_hen they mean 'Mon Dieu.'
  • 'You would give me the slip, would you?' said he.
  • 'If you can give no reason against it.'
  • 'The only reason that I can think of,' said the Bart, 'is that I shoul_nstantly cut your head off if you were to attempt it.'
  • 'Two can play at that game, my dear Bart,' said I.
  • 'Then we'll see who can play at it best,' he cried, pulling out his sword.
  • I had drawn mine also, but I was quite determined not to hurt this admirabl_oung man who had been my benefactor.
  • 'Consider,' said I, 'you say that I am your prisoner. I might with equa_eason say that you are mine. We are alone here, and though I have no doub_hat you are an excellent swordsman, you can hardly hope to hold your ow_gainst the best blade in the six light cavalry brigades.'
  • His answer was a cut at my head. I parried and shore off half of his whit_lume. He thrust at my breast. I turned his point and cut away the other hal_f his cockade.
  • 'Curse your monkey-tricks!' he cried, as I wheeled my horse away from him.
  • 'Why should you strike at me?' said I. 'You see that I will not strike back.'
  • 'That's all very well,' said he; 'but you've got to come along with me to th_amp.'
  • 'I shall never see the camp,' said I.
  • 'I'll lay you nine to four you do,' he cried, as he made at me, sword in hand.
  • But those words of his put something new into my head. Could we not decide th_atter in some better way than fighting? The Bart was placing me in such _osition that I should have to hurt him, or he would certainly hurt me. _voided his rush, though his sword-point was within an inch of my neck.
  • 'I have a proposal,' I cried. 'We shall throw dice as to which is the prisone_f the other.'
  • He smiled at this. It appealed to his love of sport.
  • 'Where are your dice?' he cried.
  • 'I have none.'
  • 'Nor I. But I have cards.'
  • 'Cards let it be,' said I.
  • 'And the game?'
  • 'I leave it to you.'
  • 'Écarté, then—the best of three.'
  • I could not help smiling as I agreed, for I do not suppose that there wer_hree men in France who were my masters at the game. I told the Bart as muc_s we dismounted. He smiled also as he listened.
  • 'I was counted the best player at Watier's,' said he. 'With even luck yo_eserve to get off if you beat me.'
  • So we tethered our two horses and sat down one on either side of a great fla_ock. The Bart took a pack of cards out of his tunic, and I had only to se_im shuffle to convince me that I had no novice to deal with. We cut, and th_eal fell to him.
  • My faith, it was a stake worth playing for. He wished to add a hundred gol_ieces a game, but what was money when the fate of Colonel Etienne Gerard hun_pon the cards? I felt as though all those who had reason to be interested i_he game—my mother, my hussars, the Sixth Corps d'Armée, Ney, Massena, eve_he Emperor himself—were forming a ring round us in that desolate valley.
  • Heavens, what a blow to one and all of them should the cards go against me!
  • But I was confident, for my écarté play was as famous as my swordsmanship, an_ave old Bouvet of the Hussars of Bercheny, who won seventy-six out of on_undred and fifty games off me, I have always had the best of a series.
  • The first game I won right off, though I must confess that the cards were wit_e, and that my adversary could have done no more. In the second, I neve_layed better and saved a trick by a finesse, but the Bart voled me once, marked the king, and ran out in the second hand. My faith, we were so excite_hat he laid his helmet down beside him and I my busby.
  • 'I'll lay my roan mare against your black horse,' said he.
  • 'Done!' said I.
  • 'Sword against sword.'
  • 'Done!' said I.
  • 'Saddle, bridle, and stirrups!' he cried.
  • 'Done!' I shouted.
  • I had caught this spirit of sport from him. I would have laid my hussar_gainst his dragoons had they been ours to pledge.
  • And then began the game of games. Oh, he played, this Englishman—he played i_ way that was worthy of such a stake. But I, my friends, I was superb! Of th_ive which I had to make to win, I gained three on the first hand. The Bar_it his moustache and drummed his hands, while I already felt myself at th_ead of my dear little rascals. On the second, I turned the king, but lost tw_ricks—and my score was four to his two. When I saw my next hand I could no_ut give a cry of delight. 'If I cannot gain my freedom on this,' thought I,
  • 'I deserve to remain for ever in chains.'
  • Give me the cards, landlord, and I will lay them out on the table for you.
  • Here was my hand: knave and ace of clubs, queen and knave of diamonds, an_ing of hearts. Clubs were trumps, mark you, and I had but one point betwee_e and freedom. He knew it was the crisis, and he undid his tunic. I threw m_olman on the ground. He led the ten of spades. I took it with my ace o_rumps. One point in my favour. The correct play was to clear the trumps, an_ led the knave. Down came the queen upon it, and the game was equal. He le_he eight of spades, and I could only discard my queen of diamonds. Then cam_he seven of spades, and the hair stood straight up on my head. We each thre_own a king at the final. He had won two points, and my beautiful hand ha_een mastered by his inferior one. I could have rolled on the ground as _hought of it. They used to play very good écarté at Watier's in the year '10.
  • I say it—I, Brigadier Gerard.
  • The last game was now four all. This next hand must settle it one way or th_ther. He undid his sash, and I put away my sword-belt. He was cool, thi_nglishman, and I tried to be so also, but the perspiration would trickle int_y eyes. The deal lay with him, and I may confess to you, my friends, that m_ands shook so that I could hardly pick my cards from the rock. But when _aised them, what was the first thing that my eyes rested upon? It was th_ing, the king, the glorious king of trumps! My mouth was open to declare i_hen the words were frozen upon my lips by the appearance of my comrade.
  • He held his cards in his hand, but his jaw had fallen, and his eyes wer_taring over my shoulder with the most dreadful expression of consternatio_nd surprise. I whisked round, and I was myself amazed at what I saw.
  • Three men were standing quite close to us—fifteen mètres at the farthest. Th_iddle one was of a good height, and yet not too tall—about the same height, in fact, that I am myself. He was clad in a dark uniform with a small cocke_at, and some sort of white plume upon the side. But I had little thought o_is dress. It was his face, his gaunt cheeks, his beak-like nose, hi_asterful blue eyes, his thin, firm slit of a mouth which made one feel tha_his was a wonderful man, a man of a million. His brows were tied into a knot, and he cast such a glance at my poor Bart from under them that one by one th_ards came fluttering down from his nerveless fingers. Of the two other men, one, who had a face as brown and hard as though it had been carved out of ol_ak, wore a bright red coat, while the other, a fine portly man with bush_ide-whiskers, was in a blue jacket with gold facings. Some little distanc_ehind, three orderlies were holding as many horses, and an escort of dragoon_as waiting in the rear.
  • 'Heh, Crauford, what the deuce is this?' asked the thin man.
  • 'D'you hear, sir?' cried the man with the red coat. 'Lord Wellington wants t_now what this means.'
  • My poor Bart broke into an account of all that had occurred, but that rock- face never softened for an instant.
  • 'Pretty fine, 'pon my word, General Crauford,' he broke in. 'The discipline o_his force must be maintained, sir. Report yourself at headquarters as _risoner.'
  • It was dreadful to me to see the Bart mount his horse and ride off wit_anging head. I could not endure it. I threw myself before this Englis_eneral. I pleaded with him for my friend. I told him how I, Colonel Gerard, would witness what a dashing young officer he was. Ah, my eloquence might hav_elted the hardest heart; I brought tears to my own eyes, but none to his. M_oice broke, and I could say no more.
  • 'What weight do you put on your mules, sir, in the French service?' he asked.
  • Yes, that was all this phlegmatic Englishman had to answer to these burnin_ords of mine. That was his reply to what would have made a Frenchman wee_pon my shoulder.
  • 'What weight on a mule?' asked the man with the red coat.
  • 'Two hundred and ten pounds,' said I.
  • 'Then you load them deucedly badly,' said Lord Wellington. 'Remove th_risoner to the rear.'
  • His dragoons closed in upon me, and I—I was driven mad, as I thought that th_ame had been in my hands, and that I ought at that moment to be a free man. _eld the cards up in front of the General.
  • 'See, my lord!' I cried; 'I played for my freedom and I won, for, as yo_erceive, I hold the king.'
  • For the first time a slight smile softened his gaunt face.
  • 'On the contrary,' said he, as he mounted his horse, 'it is I who won, for, a_ou perceive, my King holds you.'