Sunday, 25/02/2024 - 18:04
05:17 | 16/10/2019

Gauvain on his side was preparing for the attack. He had given his last instructions to Cimourdain, who, it will be remembered, was to guard the plateau, taking no part in the action, as well as to Guéchamp, who with the main body of the army was to be stationed in the forest camp. It was agreed that neither the lower battery of the wood nor the higher one of the plateau was to fire, unless a sortie or an attempt to escape were made. Gauvain reserved for himself the command of the storming column, and this it was that troubled Cimourdain.

The sun had just set.

A tower in the open country is like a ship in mid-ocean, and must be attacked in the same way. It is more like boarding than assaulting. Cannon is of no avail, for of what use would it be to cannonade walls fifteen feet thick? A port-hole through which men struggle to force a way, while others defend the entrance with axes, knives, pistols, fists, and teeth, – this was the kind of combat that might be expected, and Gauvain knew that by no other means could the Tourgue be taken. Nothing can be more deadly than an attack where the combatants can look into one another’s eyes. He was familiar with the formidable interior of the tower, having lived there as a child.

He stood wrapped in deep thought.

A few paces from him, his lieutenant, Guéchamp, with a spy-glass in his hand, was scanning the horizon in the direction of Parigné. Suddenly he cried, –

“Ah! At last!”

This exclamation roused Gauvain from his reverie.

“What is it, Guéchamp?”

“The ladder is coming, commander.”

“The escape-ladder?”

“Yes.”

“Is it possible that it has not arrived till now?”

“No, commander; and I felt anxious about it. The courier whom I sent to Javené returned.”

“I am aware of that.”

“He reported that he had found in a carpenter-shop at Javené a ladder of the required dimensions, that he had taken possession of it, and having had it put on a wagon, demanded an escort of twelve horsemen; that he had waited to see them set out for Parigné, – the wagon, the escort, and the ladder, – and had then started for home at full speed.”

“And reported the same to us, adding that the team was a good one and had started about two o’clock in the morning, and would therefore be here before sunset. Yes, I know all that. What else?”

“Well, commander, the sun has just set and the wagon that is to bring the ladder has not yet arrived.”

“Is it possible? But we must begin the attack. The hour has come. If we are late, the besieged will think that we have retreated.”

“We can attack, commander.”

“But we must have the escape-ladder.”

“Certainly.”

“But we have not got it”

“Yes, we have.”

“How is that?”

“That’s what made me say, ‘Ah! at last!’ As the wagon had not arrived, I took my spy-glass and have been watching the road from Parigné to the Tourgue, and now I am content; for the wagon and the escort are yonder descending the hill. You can see them.”

Gauvain took the spy-glass and looked.

“Yes, there it is. It is hardly light enough to see it all distinctly, but I can distinguish the escort; it is certainly that. Only it seems to me larger than you said, Guéchamp?”

“Yes, it does.”

“They are about a quarter of a league distant.”

“The escape-ladder will be here in a quarter of an hour, commander.”

“Then we can attack.”

It was indeed a wagon approaching, but not the one they supposed it to be.

As he turned, Gauvain saw behind him Sergeant Radoub standing with downcast eyes, in the attitude of military salute.

“What is it, Sergeant Radoub?”

“Citizen commander, we, the men of the battalion of the Bonnet-Rouge, have a favor to ask of you.”

“What is it?”

“To be killed.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Gauvain.

“Will you grant us this favor?”

“Well, that depends,” said Gauvain.

“It is just this, commander. Since the affair at Dol, you have been too careful of us. There are twelve of us still.”

“Well?”

“It humiliates us.”

“You are the reserved force.”

“We would rather be in the vanguard.”

“I need you to insure success at the close of the engagement. That is why I keep you back.”

“There is too much of this keeping back.”

“It is all the same. You are in the column. You march.”

“In the rear. Paris has a right to march at the head.”

“I will consider the matter, Sergeant Radoub.”

“Consider it to-day, commander. The occasion is at hand. Hard knocks will be given on both sides; it will be lively work. He who lays a finger on the Tourgue will get himself burned; we request the favor of being in the thick of it.”

The sergeant paused, twisted his moustache, and continued in a changed voice: –

“And then you know, commander, our little ones are in this tower. Our children are there, – the children of the battalion, our three children. That abominable wretch Brise-Bleu, called the Imânus, that Gouge-le-Bruand, Bouge-le-Gruand, Fouge-le-Truand, that thundering devil of a man, threatens our children, – our children, our puppets, commander! No harm must come to them, whatever convulsion shakes the Tourgue. Do you understand that, commander? We will not endure it. Just now I took advantage of the truce, and climbing up the plateau, I looked at them through the window. Yes, they are certainly there, – you can see them from the edge of the ravine; I saw them, and frightened the darlings. Commander, if a single hair falls from the heads of those little cherubs, – I swear it by the thousand names of all that is sacred, – I, Sergeant Radoub, will demand an account of God Almighty! And this is what the battalion says: we want the babies to be saved, or else we all want to be killed. We have a right to ask it. Yes, that every man of us be killed! And now I salute you, and present my respects.”

Gauvain held out his hand to Radoub as he exclaimed: –

“You are brave fellows! You will join the attacking column. I shall divide you into two parties; six of you I shall place in the vanguard to insure the advance, and six in the rear-guard to prevent a retreat.”

“And am I still to command the twelve?”

“Of course.”

“Thank you, commander. In that case, I join the vanguard.”

Radoub made the military salute, and returned to the ranks. Gauvain drew out his watch, whispered a few words to Guéchamp, and the attacking column began to form.

 

 

 



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