Sunday, 25/02/2024 - 17:57
11:35 | 13/10/2019

A sudden stupor fell upon the assailants. Radoub had been the sixth to enter the breach at the head of the attacking column, and of these six men of the Parisian battalion four had already fallen. After uttering the exclamation “I,” he was seen to draw back instead of advancing, and bending over, in a crouching attitude, he crawled between the legs of the combatants, until, reaching the opening of the breach, he rushed out. Was this flight? Was it possible for such a man to flee? What could it mean?

Having escaped from the breach, Radoub, still blinded by the smoke, rubbed his eyes, as though to dispel the horror and gloom of the night, and by the faint glimmer of the stars began to scrutinize the wall of the tower. He nodded with an air of satisfaction, as much as to say, “So I was not mistaken.”

Radoub had noticed that the deep fissure caused by the explosion of the mine extended from the breach to that loop-hole on the first story whose iron grating had been shattered and partially torn off by a cannon-ball, and thus hanging, the network of broken bars left just room enough for a man to pass through, – provided he could climb up to it; and that was the question. Possibly it might be done by following the crack, supposing the man to be a cat; and Radoub was precisely like a cat. He was of the race which Pindar calls “the agile athletes.” Although a man may be an old soldier, it by no means follows that he is no longer young. Radoub, who had been in the French Guards, was not yet forty years of age, and he was as active as Hercules.

Laying his musket on the ground, he removed his shoulder-belt, threw off his coat and waistcoat, keeping only his two pistols, which he stuck in the belt of his trousers, and his drawn sabre, which he held between his teeth. The butts of his pistols projected from above his belt.

Thus burdened by no unnecessary weight, and followed in the darkness by the eyes of all those of the attacking column who had not as yet entered the breach, he began the ascent, climbing the stones of the cracked wall as though they had been the steps of a staircase. It was an advantage to him that he wore no shoes; there is nothing like a naked foot for clinging, and he twisted his toes into the holes between the stones. While hoisting himself by means of his fists, he used his knees for support. It was a hard pull, not unlike climbing up the teeth of a saw. “Luckily,” he thought to himself, “there is no one in the room on the first story; for if there were, I should never have been allowed to climb up in this way.”

He had about forty feet to climb after this fashion, and, as he advanced, somewhat inconvenienced by the projecting butts of his pistols, the crack grew narrower and the ascent more and more difficult. The increasing depth of the precipice beneath his feet added constantly to the danger of a fall; but at last he reached the edge of the loop-hole, and on pushing aside the twisted and broken grating he found that he had ample room to pass through. Then raising himself by a powerful effort, he braced his knees against the cornices of the ledge, caught hold of a fragment of the grating on either hand, and holding his sabre between his teeth, he drew himself up as high as his waist in front of the embrasure of the loop-hole; there, with his entire weight resting on his two fists, he hung suspended over the abyss.

Now, with a single bound, he had but to leap into the hall of the first story.

Suddenly he beheld in the gloom a horrible object; a face appeared in the embrasure, like a bleeding mask with its jaw crushed and one eye torn out, and this one-eyed mask was gazing steadily at him.

The two hands belonging to this mask were seen to reach forth from the darkness in the direction of Radoub; one of them instantly caught the pistols from his belt, and the other pulled the sabre from his teeth, and thus Radoub was disarmed.

He felt his knee slipping from the sloping cornice, the grasp of his hands on fragments of the grating barely sufficed to support him, while behind him yawned an abyss of forty feet.

That mask and those hands belonged to Chante-en-hiver.

Suffocated by the smoke that rose from below, Chante-en-hiver had made his way into the embrasure of this loop-hole, where the out-door air had revived him, the freshness of the night had checked the bleeding of his wounds, and he had begun to feel somewhat stronger, when suddenly in the opening before him appeared the form of Radoub; then, while the latter hung there, clinging with both hands to the railing, with no choice but to drop or suffer himself to be disarmed, Chante-en-hiver, with an awful calmness, snatched the two pistols from big belt and the sabre from his teeth.

Whereupon ensued a duel between the unarmed and the wounded, – a duel without a parallel.

There could be no doubt that the dying man would come off victorious; one shot would be enough to hurl Radoub into the yawning gulf below.

Luckily for Radoub, Chante-en-hiver, in consequence of holding the two pistols in one hand, was unable to fire either, and was forced to use the sabre, with which he gave Radoub a thrust in the shoulder, – a blow which wounded him and at the same time saved his life.

Although unarmed, Radoub, in full possession of his strength and heedless of his injury, which was simply a flesh-wound, suddenly swung himself forward, and releasing his hold on the bars, leaped into the embrasure, where he found himself face to face with Chante-en-hiver, who had thrown the sabre behind him, as he knelt clutching a pistol in either hand.

As he took aim at Radoub, the muzzle of his pistol was so close as nearly to touch him; but his enfeebled arm trembled, and a minute passed before he could fire.

Radoub availed himself of this respite to burst out laughing.

“Look here, you hideous object!” he cried, “do you think you can frighten me with your jaw like beef à la mode? Sapristi! how they have spoiled your face for you.”

Chante-en-hiver was aiming at him.

“I suppose it is rather rude to say so,” continued Radoub, “but the grape-shot has made a pretty ragged piece of work of your head. Bellona spoiled your beauty, my poor fellow. Come, come, spit out your little pistol-shot, my friend.”

The pistol went off, and the ball, grazing Radoub’s head, tore away half his ear. Chante-en-hiver, still grasping the second pistol, raised his other arm, but Radoub gave him no time to take aim.

“It’s quite enough to lose one ear,” he cried. “You have wounded me twice, and now my turn has come.”

Throwing himself on Chante-en-hiver, he gave his arm so powerful a blow that the pistol went off in the air; then seizing him by his wounded jaw, he twisted it until Chante-en-hiver uttered a howl of agony and fainted.

Radoub stepped over his prostrate form and left him lying in the embrasure.

“Now that I have made known to you my ultimatum, don’t you dare to stir,” he said. “Lie there, base reptile that you are! You may be very sure that I shall not amuse myself at present by killing you. Crawl at your leisure over the ground, under my feet You will have to die, anyhow. And then you will find out what nonsense your curé has been telling you. Away with you into the great mystery, peasant!”

And he sprang into the hall of the lower story.

“One can’t see his hand before him,” he grumbled.

Chante-en-hiver was convulsively writhing and moaning in his agony. Radoub looked back.

“Silence! Will you please to keep still, citizen without knowing it? I have nothing more to do with you; for I should scorn to put an end to your life. Now, leave me in peace.”

And as he stood watching Chante-en-hiver, he plunged his hands restlessly into his hair.

“What am I to do? This is all very well, but here I am disarmed. I had two shots to fire, and you have wasted them, animal that you are. And besides, the smoke is so thick that it makes my eyes water;” and accidentally touching his tom ear, he cried out with pain.

“You have not gained much by getting my ear,” he continued; “in fact, I would rather lose that than any other member; it’s only an ornament, any way. You have scratched my shoulder, too, but that’s of no consequence. You may die in peace, rustic; I forgive you.”

He listened. The noise in the lower hall was frightful. The fight was raging more wildly than ever.

“Things are progressing downstairs. Hear them yelling ‘Long live the King!’ It must be acknowledged that they die nobly.”

He stumbled over his sabre that lay on the floor, and as he picked it up, he said to Chante-en-hiver, who had ceased to moan, and who might very possibly be dead: –

“You see, man of the woods, my sabre is not of the slightest use for what I intended to do. However, I take it as a keepsake from you. But I needed my pistols. Devil take you, savage! What am I to do here? I am of no use at all.”

As he advanced into the hall, tiding to see where he was and to get his bearings, he suddenly discovered in the shadow behind the central pillar a long table, and upon this table something faintly gleaming. He felt of the objects. They were muskets, pistols, and carbines, a whole row of fire-arms arranged in order and apparently only waiting for hands to seize them. This was the reserve prepared by the besieged for the second stage of the assault; indeed, it was a complete arsenal.

“This is a treasure indeed!” exclaimed Radoub; and half dazed with joy he flung himself upon them.

Then it was that he became formidable.

Near the table covered with fire-arms could be seen the wide-open door of the staircase leading to the upper and lower stories. Radoub dropped his sabre, seized a double-barrelled pistol in each hand, and instantly fired at random through the door leading to the spiral staircase; then he grasped a blunderbuss, firing that also, and directly afterwards a gun loaded with buckshot, whose fifteen balls made as much noise as a volley of grape-shot. After which, pausing to take breath, he shouted in thundering tones down the staircase, “Long live Paris!”

Seizing another blunderbuss bigger than the first he aimed it towards the vault of the winding staircase and paused again.

The uproar that ensued in the lower hall baffles description. Resistance is shattered by such unlooked for surprises.

Two of the balls of Radoub’s triple discharge had taken effect, killing the older of the brothers Pique-en-bois and Houzard, who was M. de Quélen.

“They are upstairs,” cried the Marquis.

At this exclamation; the men determined to abandon the retirade and no flock of birds could have surpassed the rapidity of their flight, as they rushed pell-mell towards the staircase, the Marquis urging them onward.

“Make haste!” he cried; “now we must show our courage by flight. Let us all go up to the second floor and there begin anew!”

He himself was the last man to leave the retirade, and to this act of bravery he owed his life.

Radoub, with his finger on the trigger, was concealed on the first landing of the staircase, watching the rout. The first men who appeared at the turn of the staircase received the discharge full in their faces and fell, and if the Marquis had been among them he would have been a dead man. Before Radoub had time to seize another weapon they had all passed, and the Marquis, moving more deliberately than the others, brought up the rear. Supposing as they did that the room on the first story was filled with the besiegers, they never paused until they reached the mirror room on the second story, – the room with the iron door and the sulphur match, where they must either capitulate or die.

Gauvain, quite as much surprised as any one of the besieged at the sound of the shots from the staircase, and having no idea of the source of this unexpected assistance, but availing himself of it without trying to understand, had leaped over the retirade, followed by his men, and, sword in hand, had driven the fugitives to the first story. There he found Radoub, who, with a military salute, said to him, –

“One moment, commander. It was I who did that. I had not forgotten Dol, so I followed your example, and took the enemy between two fires.”

“You are a clever scholar,” replied Gauvain with a smile.

One’s eyes, like those of night birds, grow accustomed to a dim light after a certain time, and Gauvain discovered that Radoub was covered with blood.

“But you are wounded, comrade!”

“Oh, that is nothing, commander. What is an ear more or less? I got a sabre-thrust, too, but I don’t mind it. When one breaks a pane of glass, of course one gets a few cuts; it is only a question of a little blood.”

In the room in the first story conquered by Radoub the men halted. A lantern was brought, and Cimourdain rejoined Gauvain; whereupon they both took counsel together, and well they might. The besiegers were not in the confidence of the besieged; they had no means of knowing their scarcity of ammunition nor their want of powder; the second story was their very last intrenchment, and the assailants thought it not unlikely that the staircase might be mined.

One thing was certain, – the enemy could not escape. Those who were not killed, were like men locked in a prison. Lantenac was caught in the trap.

Resting upon this assurance, they felt that it would be well to devote a short time to considering the matter of bringing the affair to a crisis. Many of their men had already been killed. They must take measures to prevent too great a loss of life in the final assault.

There would be serious danger in this last attack. At the first onset they would no doubt find themselves exposed to a heavy fire.

Hostilities had ceased. The besiegers in possession of the ground-floor and the first story waited for orders from their chief to renew the fight. While Gauvain and Cimourdain held counsel together, Radoub listened in silence to their deliberations.

At last he timidly ventured another military salute.

“Commander!”

“What is it, Radoub?”

“Have I earned a small reward?”

“Certainly. Ask what you will.”

“Then I ask to be the first one to go up.”

It was impossible to refuse him; besides, he would have gone without permission.

 

 

 



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