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
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.
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
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,
'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.