The widow felt that a crisis had indeed come. Cousin Abiram's was the next place in the order of visitation, bbuy bitcoin australia debit cardut her last experience there left her in painful doubt as to a future reception. Therefore she tied on a new cap, smoothed her apron, and rocked with unwonted rapidity. "It'll be according to the ordering of Providence--"
In the morning all the old, prosaic problems of his life would return, with their hard, practical insistence, and he knew that he must decide upon something very soon. His lonely viethereum coin costgils and days of quiet had brought him to the conclusion that he could not hunt up a wife as a matter of business. He would rather face the "ever angry bears" than breathe the subject of matrimony to any woman that he could ever imagine himself marrying. He was therefore steadily drifting toward the necessity of selling everything and going away. This event, however, was like a coral reef to a sailor, with no land in view beyond it. The only thing which seemed certain was the general breaking up of all that had hitherto made his life.The offer of help came from an unexpected source. One morning Holcroft received a call from a neighbor who had never before shown any interest in his affairs. On this occasion, however, Mr. Weeks began to display so much solicitude that the farmer was not only surprised, but also a little distrustful. Nothing in his previous knowledge of the man had prepared the way for such very kindly intervention.
After some general references to the past, Mr. Weeks continued, "I've been saying to our folks that it was too bad to let you worry on alone without more neighborly help. You ought either to get married or have some thoroughly respectable and well-known middle-aged woman keep house for you. That would stop all talk, and there's been a heap of it, I can tell you. Of course, I and my folks don't believe anything's been wrong.""Believing that something was wrong is about all the attention my neighbors have given me, as far as I can see," Holcroft remarked bitterly."Well, you see, Holcroft, you've kept yourself so inside your shell that people don't know what to believe. Now, the thing to do is to change all that. I know how hard it is for a man, placed as you be, to get decent help. My wife was a-wondering about it the other day, and I shut her up mighty sudden by saying, 'You're a good manager, and know all the country side, yet how often you're a-complaining that you can't get a girl that's worth her salt to help in haying and other busy times when we have to board a lot of men.' Well, I won't beat around the bush any more. I've come to act the part of a good neighbor. There's no use of you're trying to get along with such haphazard help as you can pick up here and in town. You want a respectable woman for housekeeper, and then have a cheap, common sort of a girl to work under her. Now, I know of just such a woman, and it's not unlikely she'd be persuaded to take entire charge of your house and dairy. My wife's cousin, Mrs. Mumpson--" At the mention of this name Holcroft gave a slight start, feeling something like a cold chill run down his back.Mr. Weeks was a little disconcerted but resumed, "I believe she called on your wife once?""Yes," the farmer replied laconically. "I was away and did not see her."
"Well, now," pursued Mr. Weeks, "she's a good soul. She has her little peculiarities; so have you and me, a lot of 'em; but she's thoroughly respectable, and there isn't a man or woman in the town that would think of saying a word against her. She has only one child, a nice, quiet little girl who'd be company for her mother and make everything look right, you know.""I don't see what there's been to look wrong," growled the farmer."Sergeant," said Cadel, respectfully, "I laugh to see Private Dard,that got the wind of the shot, dance and sing, when the man that gotthe shot itself does not say a word.""The wind of the shot, you rascal!" roared Private Dard: "lookhere!" and he showed the blood running down his face.
The shot had actually driven a splinter of bone out of the sutlerinto Dard's temple."I am the unluckiest fellow in the army," remonstrated Dard: and hestamped in a circle."Seems to me you are only the second unluckiest this time," said ayoung soldier with his mouth full; and, with a certain dry humor, hepointed vaguely over his shoulder with the fork towards the corpse.The trenches laughed and assented.
This want of sympathy and justice irritated Dard. "You cursedfools!" cried he. "He is gone where we must all go--without anytrouble. But look at me. I am always getting barked. Dogs ofPrussians! they pick me out among a thousand. I shall have aheadache all the afternoon, you see else."Some of our heads would never have ached again: but Dard had a goodthick skull.Dard pulled out his spilikin savagely.
"I'll wrap it up in paper for Jacintha," said he. "Then that willlearn her what a poor soldier has to go through."Even this consolation was denied Private Dard.Corporal Coriolanus Gand, a bit of an infidel from Lyons, whosometimes amused himself with the Breton's superstition, told himwith a grave face, that the splinter belonged not to him, but to thesutler, and, though so small, was doubtless a necessary part of hisframe."If you keep that, it will be a bone of contention between you two,"said he; "especially at midnight. HE WILL BE ALWAYS COMING BACK TOYOU FOR IT.""There, take it away!" said the Breton hastily, "and bury it withthe poor fellow."Sergeant La Croix presented himself before the colonel with a ruefulface and saluted him and said, "Colonel, I beg a thousand pardons;your dinner has been spilt--a shot from the bastion.""No matter," said the colonel. "Give me a piece of bread instead."La Croix went for it himself, and on his return found Cadel sittingon one side of Death's Alley, and Dard with his head bound up on theother. They had got a bottle which each put up in turn wherever hefancied the next round shot would strike, and they were bettingtheir afternoon rations which would get the Prussians to hit thebottle first.La Croix pulled both their ears playfully.
"Time is up for playing marbles," said he. "Be off, and play atduty," and he bundled them into the battery.It was an hour past midnight: a cloudy night. The moon was up, butseen only by fitful gleams. A calm, peaceful silence reigned.Dard was sentinel in the battery.An officer going his rounds found the said sentinel flat instead ofvertical. He stirred him with his scabbard, and up jumped Dard.
"It's all right, sergeant. O Lord! it's the colonel. I wasn'tasleep, colonel.""I have not accused you. But you will explain what you were doing.""Colonel," said Dard, all in a flutter, "I was taking a squint atthem, because I saw something. The beggars are building a wall,now.""Where?""Between us and the bastion.""Show me.""I can't, colonel; the moon has gone in; but I did see it.""How long was it?""About a hundred yards.""How high?""Colonel, it was ten feet high if it was an inch.""Have you good sight?""La! colonel, wasn't I a bit of a poacher before I took to thebayonet?""Good! Now reflect. If you persist in this statement, I turn outthe brigade on your information.""I'll stand the fire of a corporal's guard at break of day if I makea mistake now," said Dard.The colonel glided away, called his captain and first lieutenants,and said two words in each ear, that made them spring off theirbacks.
Dard, marching to an fro, musket on shoulder, found himself suddenlysurrounded by grim, silent, but deadly eager soldiers, that camepouring like bees into the open space behind the battery. Theofficers came round the colonel."Attend to two things," said he to the captains. "Don't fire tillthey are within ten yards: and don't follow them unless I lead you."The men were then told off by companies, some to the battery, someto the trenches, some were kept on each side Death's Alley, readyfor a rush.
They were not all of them in position, when those behind the parapetsaw, as it were, something deepen the gloom of night, some fourscoreyards to the front: it was like a line of black ink suddenly drawnupon a sheet covered with Indian ink.It seems quite stationary. The novices wondered what it was. Theveterans muttered--"Three deep."Though it looked stationary, it got blacker and blacker. Thesoldiers of the 24th brigade griped their muskets hard, and settheir teeth, and the sergeants had much ado to keep them quiet.All of a sudden, a loud yell on the right of the brigade, two orthree single shots from the trenches in that direction, followed bya volley, the cries of wounded men, and the fierce hurrahs of anattacking party.Our colonel knew too well those sounds: the next parallel had beensurprised, and the Prussian bayonet was now silently at work.Disguise was now impossible. At the first shot, a guttural voice infront of Dujardin's men was heard to give a word of command. Therewas a sharp rattle and in a moment the thick black line was tippedwith glittering steel.A roar and a rush, and the Prussian line three deep came furiouslylike a huge steel-pointed wave, at the French lines. A tremendouswave of fire rushed out to meet that wave of steel: a crash of twohundred muskets, and all was still. Then you could see through theblack steel-tipped line in a hundred frightful gaps, and the groundsparkled with bayonets and the air rang with the cries of thewounded.
A tremendous cheer from the brigade, and the colonel charged at thehead of his column, out by Death's Alley.The broken wall was melting away into the night. The colonelwheeled his men to the right: one company, led by the impetuousyoung Captain Jullien, followed the flying enemy.
The other attack had been only too successful. They shot thesentries, and bayoneted many of the soldiers in their tents: othersescaped by running to the rear, and some into the next parallel.Several, half dressed, snatched up their muskets, killed onePrussian, and fell riddled like sieves.
A gallant officer got a company together into the place of arms andformed in line.Half the Prussian force went at them, the rest swept the trenches:
the French company delivered a deadly volley, and the next momentclash the two forces crossed bayonets, and a silent deadly stabbingmatch was played: the final result of which was inevitable. ThePrussians were five to one. The gallant officer and the poorfellows who did their duty so stoutly, had no thought left but todie hard, when suddenly a roaring cheer seemed to come from the rearrank of the enemy. "France! France!" Half the 24th brigade cameleaping and swarming over the trenches in the Prussian rear. ThePrussians wavered. "France!" cried the little party that were beingoverpowered, and charged in their turn with such fury that in twoseconds the two French corps went through the enemy's centre likepaper, and their very bayonets clashed together in more than onePrussian body.Broken thus in two fragments the Prussian corps ceased to exist as amilitary force. The men fled each his own way back to the fort, andmany flung away their muskets, for French soldiers were swarming infrom all quarters. At this moment, bang! bang! bang! from thebastion."They are firing on my brigade," said our colonel. "Who has led hiscompany there against my orders? Captain Neville, into the battery,and fire twenty rounds at the bastion! Aim at the flashes fromtheir middle tier.""Yes, colonel."The battery opened with all its guns on the bastion. The rightattack followed suit. The town answered, and a furious cannonaderoared and blazed all down both lines till daybreak. Hell seemedbroken loose.Captain Jullien had followed the flying foe: but could not come upwith them: and, as the enemy had prepared for every contingency, thefatal bastion, after first throwing a rocket or two to discovertheir position, poured showers of grape into them, killed many, andwould have killed more but that Captain Neville and his gunnershappened by mere accident to dismount one gun and to kill a coupleof gunners at the others. This gave the remains of the company timeto disperse and run back. When the men were mustered, CaptainJullien and twenty-five of his company did not answer to theirnames. At daybreak they were visible from the trenches lying all bythemselves within eighty yards of the bastion.
A flag of truce came from the fort: the dead were removed on bothsides and buried. Some Prussian officers strolled into the Frenchlines. Civilities and cigars exchanged: "Bon jour," "Gooten daeg:"then at it again, ding dong all down the line blazing and roaring.At twelve o'clock the besieged had got a man on horseback, on top ofa hill, with colored flags in his hand, making signals.
"What are you up to now?" inquired Dard."You will see," said La Croix, affecting mystery; he knew no morethan the other.
Presently off went Long Tom on the top of the bastion, and the shotcame roaring over the heads of the speakers.The flags were changed, and off went Long Tom again at an elevation.
Ten seconds had scarcely elapsed when a tremendous explosion tookplace on the French right. Long Tom was throwing red-hot shot; onehad fallen on a powder wagon, and blown it to pieces, and killed twopoor fellows and a horse, and turned an artillery man at somedistance into a seeming nigger, but did him no great harm; only tookhim three days to get the powder out of his clothes with pipe clay,and off his face with raw potato-peel.When the tumbril exploded, the Prussians could be heard to cheer,and they turned to and fired every iron spout they owned. Long Tomworked all day.They got into a corner where the guns of the battery could not hitthem or him, and there was his long muzzle looking towards the sky,and sending half a hundredweight of iron up into the clouds, andplunging down a mile off into the French lines.And, at every shot, the man on horseback made signals to let thegunners know where the shot fell.
At last, about four in the afternoon, they threw a forty-eight-poundshot slap into the commander-in-chief's tent, a mile and a halfbehind trenches.Down comes a glittering aide-de-camp as hard as he can gallop.
"Colonel Dujardin, what are you about, sir? YOUR BASTION has throwna round shot into the commander-in-chief's tent."The colonel did not appear so staggered as the aide-de-campexpected."Ah, indeed!" said he quietly. "I observed they were tryingdistances.""Must not happen again, colonel. You must drive them from the gun.""How?""Why, where is the difficulty?""If you will do me the honor to step into the battery, I will showyou," said the colonel.
"If you please," said the aide-de-camp stiffly.Colonel Dujardin took him to the parapet, and began, in a calm,painstaking way, to show him how and why none of his guns could bebrought to bear upon Long Tom.