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Chapter 30 Holcroft's Best Hopebitcoin app gebührenWhen Holcroft came in to dinner that day the view he had adopted was confirmed, yet Alida's manner and appearance began to trouble him. Even to his rather slow perception, she did not seem so happy as she had been. She did not meet his eye with her old frank, friendly, and as he had almost hoped, affectionate, expression; she seemed merely feverishly anxious to do everything and have all as he wished. Instead of acting with natural ease and saying what was in her mind without premeditation, a conscious effort was visible and an apparent solicitude that he should be satisfied. The inevitable result was that he was more dissatisfied. "She's doing her best for me," he growled, as he went back to his work, "and it begins to look as if it might wear her out in time. Confound it! Having everything just so isn't of much account when a man's heart-hungry. I'd rather have had one of her old smiles and gone without my dinner. Well, well; how little a man understands himself or knows the future! The day I married her I was in mortal dread lest she should care for me too much and want to be affectionate and all that; and here I am, discontented and moping because everything has turned out as I then wished. Don't see as I'm to blame, either. She had no business to grow so pretty. Then she looked like a ghost, but now when the color comes into her cheeks, and her blue eyes sparkle, a man would be a stupid clod if he didn't look with all his eyes and feel his heart a-thumping. That she should change so wasn't in the bargain; neither was it that she should read aloud in such sweet tones that a fellow'd like to listen to the dictionary; nor that she should make the house and yard look as they never did before, and, strangest of all, open my eyes to the fact that apple trees bear flowers as well as pippins. I can't even go by a wild posy in the lane without thinking she'd like it and see in it a sight more than I once could. I've been taken in, as old Jonathan feared," he muttered, following out his fancy with a sort of grim humor. "She isn't the woman I thought I was marrying at all, and I aint bound by my agreement--not in my thoughts, anyhow. I'd have been in a nice scrape if I'd taken my little affidavit not to think of her or look upon her in any other light than that of housekeeper and butter maker. It's a scary thing, this getting married with a single eye to business. See where I am now! Hanged if I don't believe I'm in love with my wife, and, like a thundering fool, I had to warn her against falling in love with me! Little need of that, though. She hasn't been taken in, for I'm the same old chap she married, and I'd be a mighty mean cuss if I went to her and said, 'Here, I want you to do twice as much, a hundred-fold as much as you agreed to.' I'd be a fool, too, for she couldn't do it unless something drew her toward me just as I'm drawn toward her."
Late in the afternoon he leaned on the handle of his corn plow, and, in the consciousness of solitude, said aloud: "Things grow clear if you think of them enough, and the Lord knows I don't think of much else any more. It isn't her good qualities which I say over to myself a hundred times a day, or her education, or anything of the kind, that draws me; it's she herself. I like her. Why don't I say love her, and be honest? Well, it's a fact, and I've got to face it. Here I am, plowing out my corn, and it looks splendid for its age. I thought if I could stay on the old place, and plant and cultivate and reap, I'd be more than content, and now I don't seem to care a rap for the corn or the farm either, compared with Alida; and I care for her just because she is Alida and no one else. But the other side of this fact has an ugly look. Suppose I'm disagreeable to her! When she married me she felt like a woman drowning; she was ready to take hold of the first hand reached to her without knowing much about whose hand it was. Well, she's had time to find out. She isn't drawn. Perhaps she feels toward me somewhat as I did toward Mrs. Mumpson, and she can't help herself either. Well, well, the bare thought of it makes my heart lead. What's a man to do? What can I do but live up to my agreement and not torment her any more than I can help with my company? That's the only honest course. Perhaps she'll get more used to me in time. She might get sick, and then I'd be so kind and watchful that she'd think the old fellow wasn't so bad, after all, But I shan't give her the comfort of no end of self-sacrifice in trying to be pleasant and sociable. If she's foolish enough to think she's in my debt she can't pay it in that way. No, sir! I've got to make the most of it now--I'm bound to--but this business marriage will never suit me until the white arm I saw in the dairy room is around my neck, and she looks in my eyes and says, 'James, I guess I'm ready for a longer marriage ceremony.'"It was a pity that Alida could not have been among the hazelnut bushes near and heard him.He resumed his toil, working late and doggedly. At supper he was very attentive to Alida, but taciturn and preoccupied; and when the meal was over he lighted his pipe and strolled out into the moonlight. She longed to follow him, yet felt it to be more impossible than if she were chained to the floor.And so the days passed; Holcroft striving with the whole force of his will to appear absorbed in the farm, and she, with equal effort, to seem occupied and contented with her household and dairy duties. They did everything for each other that they could, and yet each thought that the other was acting from a sense of obligation, and so all the more sedulously veiled their actual thoughts and feelings from each other. Or course, such mistaken effort only led to a more complete misunderstanding.With people of their simplicity and habit of reticence, little of what was in their hearts appeared on the surface. Neither had time to mope, and their mutual duties were in a large measure a support and refuge. Of these they could still speak freely for they pertained to business. Alida's devotion to her work was unfeigned for it seemed now her only avenue of approach to her husband. She watched over the many broods of little chickens with tireless vigilance. If it were yellow gold, she could not have gathered the butter from the churn with greater greed. She kept the house immaculate and sought to develop her cooking into a fine art. She was scrupulous in giving Jane her lessons and trying to correct her vernacular and manners, but the presence of the child grew to be a heavier cross every day. She could not blame the girl, whose misfortune it was to lead incidentally to the change in Holcroft's manner, yet it was impossible not to associate her with the beginning of that change. Jane was making decided improvement, and had Alida been happy and at rest this fact would have given much satisfaction in spite of the instinctive repugnance which the girl seemed to inspire universally. Holcroft recognized this repugnance and the patient effort to disguise it and be kind.
"Like enough she feels in the same way toward me," he thought, "and is trying a sight harder not to show it. But she seems willing enough to talk business and to keep up her interest in the partnership line. Well, blamed if I wouldn't rather talk business to her than love to any other woman!"So it gradually came about that they had more and more to say to each other on matters relating to the farm. Holcroft showed her the receipts from the dairy, and her eyes sparkled as if he had brought jewels home to her. Then she in turn would expatiate on the poultry interests and assure him that there were already nearly two hundred little chicks on the place. One afternoon, during a shower, she ventured to beguile him into listening to the greater part of one of the agricultural journals, and with much deference made two or three suggestions about the farm, which he saw were excellent. She little dreamed that if she were willing to talk of turning the farm upside down and inside out, he would have listened with pleasure.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.
In the middle of the explanation a melodious sound was heard in theair above them, like a swarm of Brobdingnag bees."What is that?" inquired the aide-de-camp.
"What? I see nothing.""That humming noise.""Oh, that? Prussian bullets. Ah, by-the-by, it is a compliment toyour uniform, monsieur; they take you for some one of importance.Well, as I was observing"--"Your explanation is sufficient, colonel; let us get out of this.
Ha, ha! you are a cool hand, colonel, I must say. But your batteryis a warm place enough: I shall report it so at headquarters."The grim colonel relaxed."Captain," said he politely, "you shall not have ridden to my postin vain. Will you lend me your horse for ten minutes?""Certainly; and I will inspect your trenches meantime.""Do so; oblige me by avoiding that angle; it is exposed, and theenemy have got the range to an inch."Colonel Dujardin slipped into his quarters; off with his half-dressjacket and his dirty boots, and presently out he came full fig,glittering brighter than the other, with one French and two foreignorders shining on his breast, mounted the aide-de-camp's horse, andaway full pelt.
Admitted, after some delay, into the generalissimo's tent, Dujardinfound the old gentleman surrounded by his staff and wroth: nor wasthe danger to which he had been exposed his sole cause of ire.The shot had burst through his canvas, struck a table on which was alarge inkstand, and had squirted the whole contents over thedespatches he was writing for Paris.Now this old gentleman prided himself upon the neatness of hisdespatches: a blot on his paper darkened his soul.Colonel Dujardin expressed his profound regret. The commander,however, continued to remonstrate. "I have a great deal of writingto do," said he, "as you must be aware; and, when I am writing, Iexpect to be quiet."Colonel Dujardin assented respectfully to the justice of this. Hethen explained at full length why he could not bring a gun in thebattery to silence "Long Tom," and quietly asked to be permitted torun a gun out of the trenches, and take a shot at the offender.
"It is a point-blank distance, and I have a new gun, with which aman ought to be able to hit his own ball at three hundred yards."The commander hesitated."I cannot have the men exposed.""I engage not to lose a man--except him who fires the gun. HE musttake his chance.""Well, colonel, it must be done by volunteers. The men must not beORDERED out on such a service as that."Colonel Dujardin bowed, and retired.
"Volunteers to go out of the trenches!" cried Sergeant La Croix, ina stentorian voice, standing erect as a poker, and swelling withimportance.There were fifty offers in less than as many seconds.
"Only twelve allowed to go," said the sergeant; "and I am one,"added he, adroitly inserting himself.A gun was taken down, placed on a carriage, and posted near Death'sAlley, but out of the line of fire.