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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 24 - D'Estouville


The storming-party, with their broad scaling-ladders, passed forward double-quick to the front.

'Heaven guide you, Ronald!' whispered Louis Lisle, hurriedly pressing the hand of Stuart as he passed the flank of his company.

'God bless you, Lisle! 'tis the last time we may look on each other's faces,' replied the other, his heart swelling with sudden emotions of tenderness at this unexpected display of friendship, at such a time, and from one to whom he had long been as a stranger.

'Maniez le drapeau! Vive l'Empereur! Appretez vos armes! Joue —feu!' cried the clear voice of D'Estouville from the fort; and instantly a volley of musketry broke over the dark line of breastworks, flashing like a continued garland of fire, showing the bronzed visages and tall grenadier caps of the old French Guard, while the waving tricolour, like a banner of crape in the dark, was run up the flag-staff.

'Vive I'Empereur/ Cannoniers, commencez le feu!' cried a hoarse voice from the angle of the epaule, and the roar of nine twenty-four pounders shook the Tagus in its bed, while crash came their volley of grape and canister like an iron tempest, sweeping one half of the storm-ing-party into eternity, and strewing fragments of limbs, fire-locks, and ladders in every direction. A roar of musketry from the British, and many a soul-stirring cheer, were the replies, and onward pressed the assailants, exposed to a tremendous fire of small-arms from the bulwarks, and grape and cannon-shot from the flanking bastions of the tete-du-pont, which mowed them down as a blast mows withered reeds.

When now, for the first time, the sharp hiss of cannon-shot, the groans of dying, and the shrieks of wounded men, rang in his ears, it must be owned that Ronald Stuart experienced that peculiar sensation of thick and tumultuous beating in his heart, boundless and terrible curiosity, intense and thrilling excitement, which even the most brave and dauntless must feel when first exposed to the dangers of mortal strife. But almost instantly these emotions vanished, and his old dashing spirit of reckless daring and fiery valour possessed him. Captain Stuart had fallen dead at his feet without a groan—shot through the head and heart by the first fire from the epaule—and Ronald, sword in hand, now led on the stormers.

'Follow me, gallants ! and we will show them what the first brigade can do,' cried he, leaping into the avant-fosse. A wild hurrah was his reply; and the soldiers rushed after him, crossing the ditch, and planting their ladders against the stone face of the sloping glacis, exposed to a deadly fire from loop-hole, parapet, and embrasure, while the French kept shouting their war-cry of 'Long live the Emperor!' and the voice of D'Estouville was heard above the din, urging them to keep up a rapid fire.

'Soldats—joue! Chargez vos armes —joue! Vivat!' echoed always by the hoarse voice of the artillery-officer from the bastion.

'Steady the ladder, Evan Bean Iverach,' cried Stuart. 'Keep close by me, and show yourself your father's son. God aid our steel! Follow me, soldiers—forward! Hurrah!' With his sword in his right hand, his bonnet in his left, and his dark hair waving about his face, he ascended the ladder fearlessly, and striking up the bayonets which bristled over the parapet, leaped upon it, brandished his sword, miraculously escaping the shower of shot which hailed around him. With dauntless bravery, he sprang from the parapet among them, and instantly the French gave way before the irresistible stream of British troops who poured in upon them, and a desperate struggle took place—short, bloody, but decisive.

'Ah, mon Dieu! Rallie—rallie! soldats! Diable! Croisez la baionette,' shouted D'Estouville frantically,—setting his men the example by throwing himself headlong on the bayonets of the assailants ; but he was driven back, and his efforts were in vain; a score of ladders had been placed against the glacis at other places, and the works were stormed on almost every part at once. The defenders were driven back, but fighting with true French bravery for every inch of ground. The British assailed them with irresistible impetuosity, bearing them backwards with the charged bayonet, the clubbed musket, the pike, and the sword. By the particular favour of Providence, Ronald escaped the dangers of the forlorn hope, while the soldiers who composed his band were mown down like leaves in autumn; but while pressing forward among the enemy, two powerful grenadiers of les Gardes Fraticais rushed upon him with their levelled bayonets, putting him in imminent peril. The pike of a sergeant of the 50th freed him of one assailant, and, closing with the other, he dashed his head against the breech of a carronade, and passed his sword through the broad breast of a third, who came up to his rescue, and the warm blood poured over the hand and blade of his conqueror, who now could scarcely keep his feet on the wooden platform surrounding the inner side of the breastwork, which was covered with blood and brains, and piled with dead and wounded—with drums, dismounted cannon, and broken weapons. The scene which was now presented is far beyond my humble powers of description. The blaze of cannon and musketry from Ragusa, at the other end of the pontoon bridge—where the garrison fired at the risk of killing their comrades—glared on the glassy bosom of the Tagus, tinging it with that red and golden colour so freely bestowed upon it by poets. But within the inner talus of the breastwork and bloody platform, the scene would have produced horror in one less excited than men contending hand to hand, and who regarded honour rather than life.

There lay the ghastly dead, cold and pale in the gray light of the morning,—across them in heaps, the wounded, quivering with the intensity of agony, grasping the gory ground with convulsive clutches, and tearing up the earth, which was soon to cover them, in handfuls, while their eyes, starting from the sockets, were becoming glazed and terrible in death. Others, who had received wounds in less vital parts of the frame, were endeavouring to drag themselves from the press, or stanch their streaming blood, imploring those who neither heard nor heeded them for 'Water! water, for the love of God!' Yells of sudden agony, the deep groan of the severely wounded, and hoarse death-rattle of the dying men, mingled and were lost in the tumultuous shouts of the French, the steady and hearty cheers of the British, the clash of steel, the tramp of feet and discharge of musketry, the notes of the wild war-pipes of the 71st and 92nd, which were blown loud enough to awaken the heroes of Selma in their tombs. Many acts of personal heroism were performed on both sides before the enemy were fairly driven from their works, for which they fought with the characteristic bravery of their gallant nation.

But longer contention would have been madness. The right wing of the Highland Light Infantry, and the whole of the 50th regiment, poured in upon them like a flood: the whole place was captured in the course of fifteen minutes, and its garrison driven into the little square formed by their barracks, and into the bastion from which their imperial tricolour flung its folds over the conflict.

'On! Forward! Capture the colours before they are destroyed!' was now the cry: and hundreds, following Colonel Stuart, of the 50th, pressed forward into the bastion, across the demi-gorge of which the enemy had cast bundles of fascines, composed of billets of wood, baskets of earth, etc., over which they presented their bayonets, and kept up a rapid fire.

Still eager to distinguish himself, Ronald pressed on by the side of the colonel of the 50th, and while endeavouring to break the hedge of steel formed by the enemy's bayonets, he was thrust in among them and borne to the ground, and his campaigns would probably have ended there, had not Evan Iverach, at the peril of his life, plunged over the fascines after him, and borne to the earth a French officer, whose sabre was descending on his master's head.

The athletic Highlander pinned the Gaul to the earth, and unsheathing a skene-dhu (black knife), drove it through the breast of his discomfited foe.

'Nombril de Belzebuth! Les sauvages Ecossais! Sacre bleu! Camar-ades, sauvez-moi!'—but his comrades had barely time to save themselves from the tide of armed men, who poured through the gap which Evan and his master had formed.

'Hurrah, Highlanders!' cried the stentorian voice of Campbell from another part of the works, where he appeared on foot at the head of his company (he was major by brevet), armed with a long Highland dirk in addition to his formidable Andrea Ferrara. 'Hurrah! brave hearts! Give them Egypt over again! Mount the platform, lads! slue round the cannon, and blow their skulls off!' A hundred active Highlanders obeyed the order. The twenty-four pounders were reversed, loaded, pointed, and fired in a twinkling, sending a tremendous volley of grape-shot among the dense mass which crowded the dark square, from which arose a yell such as might come from the regions of the damned, mingled with the gallant cry of 'Vive l'Empereur!'

'Well done, brave fellows! Load and fire again! there's plenty of grape! Another dose! Give it them!—hurrah!' cried the inexorable Campbell again. The effects of the second volley were indeed appalling, as, from the elevation of the platform, the shot actually blew off the skulls of the unfortunate French in scores. This was the decisive stroke. The bastion and square were alike abandoned, and all rushed towards the Tagus, to cross and gain the tower of Ragusa; but the garrison of that place, on finding that Fort Napoleon was captured, and its guns turned on them by the German artillery, to ensure their own retreat, destroyed that of their comrades, by cutting the pontoon bridge. D'Estouville's troops had now no alternative but to surrender themselves prisoners of war.

So enthusiastic were the soldiers while flushed with excitement and victory, that, following the bold example of Evan Bean, numbers swam the Tagus, and from the other side fired after the fugitive garrison of Ragusa.

'Surrender, noble D'Estouville! Resistance is unavailing,' cried Ronald to his old acquaintance, who with his back against the colour-staff, surrounded by corpses and scattered fascines, stood on his guard, with his proud dark eyes flashing fire under his grenadier cap. He was resolute apparently to die, but never to surrender to force.

'Halt! keep back, soldiers!' said Stuart, striking down a ridge of threatening pikes and bayonets. 'He will surrender to me. Yield, gallant D'Estouville! you may now do so without a shadow of dishonour.'

But he seemed to have forgotten the speaker, as he only replied by a blow and a thrust.

'He is a gallant fellow!' said Fassifern, tossing the bridle of his horse to an orderly, and making his way through the press. 'Save him, if possible, Stuart. Monsieur, rendez votre épée, vos armes.'

'Monsieur, permit me to retain my sword, and I will surrender ; 'tis but le droit de la guerre!

'Certainly, sir, if it is your wish.'

'Croix Dieu! Cursed fortune! So soon again to be a captive. Surely I was born under some evil star!'

'Monsieur,' replied Cameron, 'you have behaved most nobly in this affair. The glory of the vanquished is scarcely less than that of the victors.' The Frenchman was subdued by the well-timed flatter}', and, laying his hand upon his breast, answered by a bow.

'Mon ami, to you I render myself. C'est un aimable roué,' said D'Estouville, laying his hand familiarly on Ronald's epaulette while sheathing his sword; ' I become a prisoner without shame. The great Emperor might yield himself without dishonour to you, my old friend; and in truth I would rather surrender to a descendant of the ancient friends of France than to your southern neighbours, for with them a sea of blood will never quench our enmity. Croix Dieu/ what is this? The base cowards in Ragusa have cut off the retreat of my soldiers ! Ah ! false Monsieur de Mesmai, the Emperor shall hear of this. Diable!'

A proud and peculiar smile shot over his features as the soldiers pulled down the tricolour, and bore it off as a trophy from the bastion. He folded his arms, and leaning against the flag-staff, surveyed the ebbing conflict apparently with the utmost coolness and perfect nonchalance; but the quivering of his moustached lip showed the workings of his heart, though he endeavoured to conceal them.

With many a cry of 'Faites bonne guerre, messieurs les Ecossais! Quartier—quartier! Les lois de la guerre, messieurs!' the discomfited enemy clamorously demanded to be taken as prisoners of war, as the firing had now ceased everywhere ; and they often called aloud on 'les Ecossais,' probably from seeing that the majority of their conquerors wore the kilt and trews of tartan.

'Soldats, vos amies à terre!' cried the crestfallen D'Estouville over the parapet of the bastion; and, as one man, the shattered remains of the gallant garrison grounded their arms, while a strong party of the Gordon Highlanders, with fixed bayonets, surrounded them as a guard.


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