Vanity Fair (Chapter 32)
In Which Jos Takes Flight, and the War Is Brought to a Close
We of peaceful London City have never beheld—and please God never shall witness—such a scene of hurry and alarm, as that which Brussels presented. Crowds rushed to the Namur gate, from which direction the noise proceeded, and many rode along the level chaussee, to be in advance of any intelligence from the army. Each man asked his neighbour for news; and even great English lords and ladies condescended to speak to persons whom they did not know. The friends of the French went abroad, wild with excitement, and prophesying the triumph of their Emperor. The merchants closed their shops, and came out to swell the general chorus of alarm and clamour. Women rushed to the churches, and crowded the chapels, and knelt and prayed on the flags and steps. The dull sound of the cannon went on rolling, rolling. Presently carriages with travellers began to leave the town, galloping away by the Ghent barrier. The prophecies of the French partisans began to pass for facts. “He has cut the armies in two,” it was said. “He is marching straight on Brussels. He will overpower the English, and be here to-night.” “He will overpower the English,” shrieked Isidor to his master, “and will be here to-night.” The man bounded in and out from the lodgings to the street, always returning with some fresh particulars of disaster. Jos’s face grew paler and paler. Alarm began to take entire possession of the stout civilian. All the champagne he drank brought no courage to him. Before sunset he was worked up to such a pitch of nervousness as gratified his friend Isidor to behold, who now counted surely upon the spoils of the owner of the laced coat.
The women were away all this time. After hearing the firing for a moment, the stout Major’s wife bethought her of her friend in the next chamber, and ran in to watch, and if possible to console, Amelia. The idea that she had that helpless and gentle creature to protect, gave additional strength to the natural courage of the honest Irishwoman. She passed five hours by her friend’s side, sometimes in remonstrance, sometimes talking cheerfully, oftener in silence and terrified mental supplication. “I never let go her hand once,” said the stout lady afterwards, “until after sunset, when the firing was over.” Pauline, the bonne, was on her knees at church hard by, praying for son homme a elle.
When the noise of the cannonading was over, Mrs. O’Dowd issued out of Amelia’s room into the parlour adjoining, where Jos sate with two emptied flasks, and courage entirely gone. Once or twice he had ventured into his sister’s bedroom, looking very much alarmed, and as if he would say something. But the Major’s wife kept her place, and he went away without disburthening himself of his speech. He was ashamed to tell her that he wanted to fly.
But when she made her appearance in the dining-room, where he sate in the twilight in the cheerless company of his empty champagne bottles, he began to open his mind to her.
“Mrs. O’Dowd,” he said, “hadn’t you better get Amelia ready?”
“Are you going to take her out for a walk?” said the Major’s lady; “sure she’s too weak to stir.”
“I—I’ve ordered the carriage,” he said, “and—and post-horses; Isidor is gone for them,” Jos continued.
“What do you want with driving to-night?” answered the lady. “Isn’t she better on her bed? I’ve just got her to lie down.”
“Get her up,” said Jos; “she must get up, I say”: and he stamped his foot energetically. “I say the horses are ordered—yes, the horses are ordered. It’s all over, and—”
“And what?” asked Mrs. O’Dowd.
“I’m off for Ghent,” Jos answered. “Everybody is going; there’s a place for you! We shall start in half-an-hour.”
The Major’s wife looked at him with infinite scorn. “I don’t move till O’Dowd gives me the route,” said she. “You may go if you like, Mr. Sedley; but, faith, Amelia and I stop here.”
“She SHALL go,” said Jos, with another stamp of his foot. Mrs. O’Dowd put herself with arms akimbo before the bedroom door.
“Is it her mother you’re going to take her to?” she said; “or do you want to go to Mamma yourself, Mr. Sedley? Good marning—a pleasant journey to ye, sir. Bon voyage, as they say, and take my counsel, and shave off them mustachios, or they’ll bring you into mischief.”
“D—n!” yelled out Jos, wild with fear, rage, and mortification; and Isidor came in at this juncture, swearing in his turn. “Pas de chevaux, sacre bleu!” hissed out the furious domestic. All the horses were gone. Jos was not the only man in Brussels seized with panic that day.
But Jos’s fears, great and cruel as they were already, were destined to increase to an almost frantic pitch before the night was over. It has been mentioned how Pauline, the bonne, had son homme a elle also in the ranks of the army that had gone out to meet the Emperor Napoleon. This lover was a native of Brussels, and a Belgian hussar. The troops of his nation signalised themselves in this war for anything but courage, and young Van Cutsum, Pauline’s admirer, was too good a soldier to disobey his Colonel’s orders to run away. Whilst in garrison at Brussels young Regulus (he had been born in the revolutionary times) found his great comfort, and passed almost all his leisure moments, in Pauline’s kitchen; and it was with pockets and holsters crammed full of good things from her larder, that he had take leave of his weeping sweetheart, to proceed upon the campaign a few days before.
As far as his regiment was concerned, this campaign was over now. They had formed a part of the division under the command of his Sovereign apparent, the Prince of Orange, and as respected length of swords and mustachios, and the richness of uniform and equipments, Regulus and his comrades looked to be as gallant a body of men as ever trumpet sounded for.
When Ney dashed upon the advance of the allied troops, carrying one position after the other, until the arrival of the great body of the British army from Brussels changed the aspect of the combat of Quatre Bras, the squadrons among which Regulus rode showed the greatest activity in retreating before the French, and were dislodged from one post and another which they occupied with perfect alacrity on their part. Their movements were only checked by the advance of the British in their rear. Thus forced to halt, the enemy’s cavalry (whose bloodthirsty obstinacy cannot be too severely reprehended) had at length an opportunity of coming to close quarters with the brave Belgians before them; who preferred to encounter the British rather than the French, and at once turning tail rode through the English regiments that were behind them, and scattered in all directions. The regiment in fact did not exist any more. It was nowhere. It had no head-quarters. Regulus found himself galloping many miles from the field of action, entirely alone; and whither should he fly for refuge so naturally as to that kitchen and those faithful arms in which Pauline had so often welcomed him?
At some ten o’clock the clinking of a sabre might have been heard up the stair of the house where the Osbornes occupied a story in the continental fashion. A knock might have been heard at the kitchen door; and poor Pauline, come back from church, fainted almost with terror as she opened it and saw before her her haggard hussar. He looked as pale as the midnight dragoon who came to disturb Leonora. Pauline would have screamed, but that her cry would have called her masters, and discovered her friend. She stifled her scream, then, and leading her hero into the kitchen, gave him beer, and the choice bits from the dinner, which Jos had not had the heart to taste. The hussar showed he was no ghost by the prodigious quantity of flesh and beer which he devoured—and during the mouthfuls he told his tale of disaster.
His regiment had performed prodigies of courage, and had withstood for a while the onset of the whole French army. But they were overwhelmed at last, as was the whole British army by this time. Ney destroyed each regiment as it came up. The Belgians in vain interposed to prevent the butchery of the English. The Brunswickers were routed and had fled—their Duke was killed. It was a general debacle. He sought to drown his sorrow for the defeat in floods of beer.
Isidor, who had come into the kitchen, heard the conversation and rushed out to inform his master. “It is all over,” he shrieked to Jos. “Milor Duke is a prisoner; the Duke of Brunswick is killed; the British army is in full flight; there is only one man escaped, and he is in the kitchen now—come and hear him.” So Jos tottered into that apartment where Regulus still sate on the kitchen table, and clung fast to his flagon of beer. In the best French which he could muster, and which was in sooth of a very ungrammatical sort, Jos besought the hussar to tell his tale. The disasters deepened as Regulus spoke. He was the only man of his regiment not slain on the field. He had seen the Duke of Brunswick fall, the black hussars fly, the Ecossais pounded down by the cannon. “And the —th?” gasped Jos.
“Cut in pieces,” said the hussar—upon which Pauline cried out, “O my mistress, ma bonne petite dame,” went off fairly into hysterics, and filled the house with her screams.
Wild with terror, Mr. Sedley knew not how or where to seek for safety. He rushed from the kitchen back to the sitting-room, and cast an appealing look at Amelia’s door, which Mrs. O’Dowd had closed and locked in his face; but he remembered how scornfully the latter had received him, and after pausing and listening for a brief space at the door, he left it, and resolved to go into the street, for the first time that day. So, seizing a candle, he looked about for his gold-laced cap, and found it lying in its usual place, on a console-table, in the anteroom, placed before a mirror at which Jos used to coquet, always giving his side-locks a twirl, and his cap the proper cock over his eye, before he went forth to make appearance in public. Such is the force of habit, that even in the midst of his terror he began mechanically to twiddle with his hair, and arrange the cock of his hat. Then he looked amazed at the pale face in the glass before him, and especially at his mustachios, which had attained a rich growth in the course of near seven weeks, since they had come into the world. They WILL mistake me for a military man, thought he, remembering Isidor’s warning as to the massacre with which all the defeated British army was threatened; and staggering back to his bedchamber, he began wildly pulling the bell which summoned his valet.
Isidor answered that summons. Jos had sunk in a chair—he had torn off his neckcloths, and turned down his collars, and was sitting with both his hands lifted to his throat.
“Coupez-moi, Isidor,” shouted he; “vite! Coupez-moi!”
Isidor thought for a moment he had gone mad, and that he wished his valet to cut his throat.
“Les moustaches,” gasped Joe; “les moustaches—coupy, rasy, vite!”—his French was of this sort—voluble, as we have said, but not remarkable for grammar.
Isidor swept off the mustachios in no time with the razor, and heard with inexpressible delight his master’s orders that he should fetch a hat and a plain coat. “Ne porty ploo—habit militair—bonn—bonny a voo, prenny dehors”—were Jos’s words—the coat and cap were at last his property.
This gift being made, Jos selected a plain black coat and waistcoat from his stock, and put on a large white neckcloth, and a plain beaver. If he could have got a shovel hat he would have worn it. As it was, you would have fancied he was a flourishing, large parson of the Church of England.
“Venny maintenong,” he continued, “sweevy—ally—party—dong la roo.” And so having said, he plunged swiftly down the stairs of the house, and passed into the street.
Although Regulus had vowed that he was the only man of his regiment or of the allied army, almost, who had escaped being cut to pieces by Ney, it appeared that his statement was incorrect, and that a good number more of the supposed victims had survived the massacre. Many scores of Regulus’s comrades had found their way back to Brussels, and all agreeing that they had run away—filled the whole town with an idea of the defeat of the allies. The arrival of the French was expected hourly; the panic continued, and preparations for flight went on everywhere. No horses! thought Jos, in terror. He made Isidor inquire of scores of persons, whether they had any to lend or sell, and his heart sank within him, at the negative answers returned everywhere. Should he take the journey on foot? Even fear could not render that ponderous body so active.
Almost all the hotels occupied by the English in Brussels face the Parc, and Jos wandered irresolutely about in this quarter, with crowds of other people, oppressed as he was by fear and curiosity. Some families he saw more happy than himself, having discovered a team of horses, and rattling through the streets in retreat; others again there were whose case was like his own, and who could not for any bribes or entreaties procure the necessary means of flight. Amongst these would-be fugitives, Jos remarked the Lady Bareacres and her daughter, who sate in their carriage in the porte-cochere of their hotel, all their imperials packed, and the only drawback to whose flight was the same want of motive power which kept Jos stationary.
Rebecca Crawley occupied apartments in this hotel; and had before this period had sundry hostile meetings with the ladies of the Bareacres family. My Lady Bareacres cut Mrs. Crawley on the stairs when they met by chance; and in all places where the latter’s name was mentioned, spoke perseveringly ill of her neighbour. The Countess was shocked at the familiarity of General Tufto with the aide-de-camp’s wife. The Lady Blanche avoided her as if she had been an infectious disease. Only the Earl himself kept up a sly occasional acquaintance with her, when out of the jurisdiction of his ladies.
Rebecca had her revenge now upon these insolent enemies. If became known in the hotel that Captain Crawley’s horses had been left behind, and when the panic began, Lady Bareacres condescended to send her maid to the Captain’s wife with her Ladyship’s compliments, and a desire to know the price of Mrs. Crawley’s horses. Mrs. Crawley returned a note with her compliments, and an intimation that it was not her custom to transact bargains with ladies’ maids.
This curt reply brought the Earl in person to Becky’s apartment; but he could get no more success than the first ambassador. “Send a lady’s maid to ME!” Mrs. Crawley cried in great anger; “why didn’t my Lady Bareacres tell me to go and saddle the horses! Is it her Ladyship that wants to escape, or her Ladyship’s femme de chambre?” And this was all the answer that the Earl bore back to his Countess.
What will not necessity do? The Countess herself actually came to wait upon Mrs. Crawley on the failure of her second envoy. She entreated her to name her own price; she even offered to invite Becky to Bareacres House, if the latter would but give her the means of returning to that residence. Mrs. Crawley sneered at her.
“I don’t want to be waited on by bailiffs in livery,” she said; “you will never get back though most probably—at least not you and your diamonds together. The French will have those. They will be here in two hours, and I shall be half way to Ghent by that time. I would not sell you my horses, no, not for the two largest diamonds that your Ladyship wore at the ball.” Lady Bareacres trembled with rage and terror. The diamonds were sewed into her habit, and secreted in my Lord’s padding and boots. “Woman, the diamonds are at the banker’s, and I WILL have the horses,” she said. Rebecca laughed in her face. The infuriate Countess went below, and sate in her carriage; her maid, her courier, and her husband were sent once more through the town, each to look for cattle; and woe betide those who came last! Her Ladyship was resolved on departing the very instant the horses arrived from any quarter—with her husband or without him.
Rebecca had the pleasure of seeing her Ladyship in the horseless carriage, and keeping her eyes fixed upon her, and bewailing, in the loudest tone of voice, the Countess’s perplexities. “Not to be able to get horses!” she said, “and to have all those diamonds sewed into the carriage cushions! What a prize it will be for the French when they come!—the carriage and the diamonds, I mean; not the lady!” She gave this information to the landlord, to the servants, to the guests, and the innumerable stragglers about the courtyard. Lady Bareacres could have shot her from the carriage window.
It was while enjoying the humiliation of her enemy that Rebecca caught sight of Jos, who made towards her directly he perceived her.
That altered, frightened, fat face, told his secret well enough. He too wanted to fly, and was on the look-out for the means of escape. “HE shall buy my horses,” thought Rebecca, “and I’ll ride the mare.”
Jos walked up to his friend, and put the question for the hundredth time during the past hour, “Did she know where horses were to be had?”
“What, YOU fly?” said Rebecca, with a laugh. “I thought you were the champion of all the ladies, Mr. Sedley.”
“I—I’m not a military man,” gasped he.
“And Amelia?—Who is to protect that poor little sister of yours?” asked Rebecca. “You surely would not desert her?”
“What good can I do her, suppose—suppose the enemy arrive?” Jos answered. “They’ll spare the women; but my man tells me that they have taken an oath to give no quarter to the men—the dastardly cowards.”
“Horrid!” cried Rebecca, enjoying his perplexity.
“Besides, I don’t want to desert her,” cried the brother. “She SHAN’T be deserted. There is a seat for her in my carriage, and one for you, dear Mrs. Crawley, if you will come; and if we can get horses—” sighed he—
“I have two to sell,” the lady said. Jos could have flung himself into her arms at the news. “Get the carriage, Isidor,” he cried; “we’ve found them—we have found them.”
“My horses never were in harness,” added the lady. “Bullfinch would kick the carriage to pieces, if you put him in the traces.”
“But he is quiet to ride?” asked the civilian.
“As quiet as a lamb, and as fast as a hare,” answered Rebecca.
“Do you think he is up to my weight?” Jos said. He was already on his back, in imagination, without ever so much as a thought for poor Amelia. What person who loved a horse-speculation could resist such a temptation?
In reply, Rebecca asked him to come into her room, whither he followed her quite breathless to conclude the bargain. Jos seldom spent a half-hour in his life which cost him so much money. Rebecca, measuring the value of the goods which she had for sale by Jos’s eagerness to purchase, as well as by the scarcity of the article, put upon her horses a price so prodigious as to make even the civilian draw back. “She would sell both or neither,” she said, resolutely. Rawdon had ordered her not to part with them for a price less than that which she specified. Lord Bareacres below would give her the same money—and with all her love and regard for the Sedley family, her dear Mr. Joseph must conceive that poor people must live—nobody, in a word, could be more affectionate, but more firm about the matter of business.
Jos ended by agreeing, as might be supposed of him. The sum he had to give her was so large that he was obliged to ask for time; so large as to be a little fortune to Rebecca, who rapidly calculated that with this sum, and the sale of the residue of Rawdon’s effects, and her pension as a widow should he fall, she would now be absolutely independent of the world, and might look her weeds steadily in the face.
Once or twice in the day she certainly had herself thought about flying. But her reason gave her better counsel. “Suppose the French do come,” thought Becky, “what can they do to a poor officer’s widow? Bah! the times of sacks and sieges are over. We shall be let to go home quietly, or I may live pleasantly abroad with a snug little income.”
Meanwhile Jos and Isidor went off to the stables to inspect the newly purchased cattle. Jos bade his man saddle the horses at once. He would ride away that very night, that very hour. And he left the valet busy in getting the horses ready, and went homewards himself to prepare for his departure. It must be secret. He would go to his chamber by the back entrance. He did not care to face Mrs. O’Dowd and Amelia, and own to them that he was about to run.
By the time Jos’s bargain with Rebecca was completed, and his horses had been visited and examined, it was almost morning once more. But though midnight was long passed, there was no rest for the city; the people were up, the lights in the houses flamed, crowds were still about the doors, and the streets were busy. Rumours of various natures went still from mouth to mouth: one report averred that the Prussians had been utterly defeated; another that it was the English who had been attacked and conquered: a third that the latter had held their ground. This last rumour gradually got strength. No Frenchmen had made their appearance. Stragglers had come in from the army bringing reports more and more favourable: at last an aide-de-camp actually reached Brussels with despatches for the Commandant of the place, who placarded presently through the town an official announcement of the success of the allies at Quatre Bras, and the entire repulse of the French under Ney after a six hours’ battle. The aide-de-camp must have arrived sometime while Jos and Rebecca were making their bargain together, or the latter was inspecting his purchase. When he reached his own hotel, he found a score of its numerous inhabitants on the threshold discoursing of the news; there was no doubt as to its truth. And he went up to communicate it to the ladies under his charge. He did not think it was necessary to tell them how he had intended to take leave of them, how he had bought horses, and what a price he had paid for them.
But success or defeat was a minor matter to them, who had only thought for the safety of those they loved. Amelia, at the news of the victory, became still more agitated even than before. She was for going that moment to the army. She besought her brother with tears to conduct her thither. Her doubts and terrors reached their paroxysm; and the poor girl, who for many hours had been plunged into stupor, raved and ran hither and thither in hysteric insanity—a piteous sight. No man writhing in pain on the hard-fought field fifteen miles off, where lay, after their struggles, so many of the brave—no man suffered more keenly than this poor harmless victim of the war. Jos could not bear the sight of her pain. He left his sister in the charge of her stouter female companion, and descended once more to the threshold of the hotel, where everybody still lingered, and talked, and waited for more news.
It grew to be broad daylight as they stood here, and fresh news began to arrive from the war, brought by men who had been actors in the scene. Wagons and long country carts laden with wounded came rolling into the town; ghastly groans came from within them, and haggard faces looked up sadly from out of the straw. Jos Sedley was looking at one of these carriages with a painful curiosity—the moans of the people within were frightful—the wearied horses could hardly pull the cart. “Stop! stop!” a feeble voice cried from the straw, and the carriage stopped opposite Mr. Sedley’s hotel.
“It is George, I know it is!” cried Amelia, rushing in a moment to the balcony, with a pallid face and loose flowing hair. It was not George, however, but it was the next best thing: it was news of him.
It was poor Tom Stubble, who had marched out of Brussels so gallantly twenty-four hours before, bearing the colours of the regiment, which he had defended very gallantly upon the field. A French lancer had speared the young ensign in the leg, who fell, still bravely holding to his flag. At the conclusion of the engagement, a place had been found for the poor boy in a cart, and he had been brought back to Brussels.
“Mr. Sedley, Mr. Sedley!” cried the boy, faintly, and Jos came up almost frightened at the appeal. He had not at first distinguished who it was that called him.
Little Tom Stubble held out his hot and feeble hand. “I’m to be taken in here,” he said. “Osborne—and—and Dobbin said I was; and you are to give the man two napoleons: my mother will pay you.” This young fellow’s thoughts, during the long feverish hours passed in the cart, had been wandering to his father’s parsonage which he had quitted only a few months before, and he had sometimes forgotten his pain in that delirium.
The hotel was large, and the people kind, and all the inmates of the cart were taken in and placed on various couches. The young ensign was conveyed upstairs to Osborne’s quarters. Amelia and the Major’s wife had rushed down to him, when the latter had recognised him from the balcony. You may fancy the feelings of these women when they were told that the day was over, and both their husbands were safe; in what mute rapture Amelia fell on her good friend’s neck, and embraced her; in what a grateful passion of prayer she fell on her knees, and thanked the Power which had saved her husband.
Our young lady, in her fevered and nervous condition, could have had no more salutary medicine prescribed for her by any physician than that which chance put in her way. She and Mrs. O’Dowd watched incessantly by the wounded lad, whose pains were very severe, and in the duty thus forced upon her, Amelia had not time to brood over her personal anxieties, or to give herself up to her own fears and forebodings after her wont. The young patient told in his simple fashion the events of the day, and the actions of our friends of the gallant —th. They had suffered severely. They had lost very many officers and men. The Major’s horse had been shot under him as the regiment charged, and they all thought that O’Dowd was gone, and that Dobbin had got his majority, until on their return from the charge to their old ground, the Major was discovered seated on Pyramus’s carcase, refreshing him-self from a case-bottle. It was Captain Osborne that cut down the French lancer who had speared the ensign. Amelia turned so pale at the notion, that Mrs. O’Dowd stopped the young ensign in this story. And it was Captain Dobbin who at the end of the day, though wounded himself, took up the lad in his arms and carried him to the surgeon, and thence to the cart which was to bring him back to Brussels. And it was he who promised the driver two louis if he would make his way to Mr. Sedley’s hotel in the city; and tell Mrs. Captain Osborne that the action was over, and that her husband was unhurt and well.
“Indeed, but he has a good heart that William Dobbin,” Mrs. O’Dowd said, “though he is always laughing at me.”
Young Stubble vowed there was not such another officer in the army, and never ceased his praises of the senior captain, his modesty, his kindness, and his admirable coolness in the field. To these parts of the conversation, Amelia lent a very distracted attention: it was only when George was spoken of that she listened, and when he was not mentioned, she thought about him.
In tending her patient, and in thinking of the wonderful escapes of the day before, her second day passed away not too slowly with Amelia. There was only one man in the army for her: and as long as he was well, it must be owned that its movements interested her little. All the reports which Jos brought from the streets fell very vaguely on her ears; though they were sufficient to give that timorous gentleman, and many other people then in Brussels, every disquiet. The French had been repulsed certainly, but it was after a severe and doubtful struggle, and with only a division of the French army. The Emperor, with the main body, was away at Ligny, where he had utterly annihilated the Prussians, and was now free to bring his whole force to bear upon the allies. The Duke of Wellington was retreating upon the capital, and a great battle must be fought under its walls probably, of which the chances were more than doubtful. The Duke of Wellington had but twenty thousand British troops on whom he could rely, for the Germans were raw militia, the Belgians disaffected, and with this handful his Grace had to resist a hundred and fifty thousand men that had broken into Belgium under Napoleon. Under Napoleon! What warrior was there, however famous and skilful, that could fight at odds with him?
Jos thought of all these things, and trembled. So did all the rest of Brussels—where people felt that the fight of the day before was but the prelude to the greater combat which was imminent. One of the armies opposed to the Emperor was scattered to the winds already. The few English that could be brought to resist him would perish at their posts, and the conqueror would pass over their bodies into the city. Woe be to those whom he found there! Addresses were prepared, public functionaries assembled and debated secretly, apartments were got ready, and tricoloured banners and triumphal emblems manufactured, to welcome the arrival of His Majesty the Emperor and King.
The emigration still continued, and wherever families could find means of departure, they fled. When Jos, on the afternoon of the 17th of June, went to Rebecca’s hotel, he found that the great Bareacres’ carriage had at length rolled away from the porte-cochere. The Earl had procured a pair of horses somehow, in spite of Mrs. Crawley, and was rolling on the road to Ghent. Louis the Desired was getting ready his portmanteau in that city, too. It seemed as if Misfortune was never tired of worrying into motion that unwieldy exile.
Jos felt that the delay of yesterday had been only a respite, and that his dearly bought horses must of a surety be put into requisition. His agonies were very severe all this day. As long as there was an English army between Brussels and Napoleon, there was no need of immediate flight; but he had his horses brought from their distant stables, to the stables in the court-yard of the hotel where he lived; so that they might be under his own eyes, and beyond the risk of violent abduction. Isidor watched the stable-door constantly, and had the horses saddled, to be ready for the start. He longed intensely for that event.
After the reception of the previous day, Rebecca did not care to come near her dear Amelia. She clipped the bouquet which George had brought her, and gave fresh water to the flowers, and read over the letter which he had sent her. “Poor wretch,” she said, twirling round the little bit of paper in her fingers, “how I could crush her with this!—and it is for a thing like this that she must break her heart, forsooth—for a man who is stupid—a coxcomb—and who does not care for her. My poor good Rawdon is worth ten of this creature.” And then she fell to thinking what she should do if—if anything happened to poor good Rawdon, and what a great piece of luck it was that he had left his horses behind.
In the course of this day too, Mrs. Crawley, who saw not without anger the Bareacres party drive off, bethought her of the precaution which the Countess had taken, and did a little needlework for her own advantage; she stitched away the major part of her trinkets, bills, and bank-notes about her person, and so prepared, was ready for any event—to fly if she thought fit, or to stay and welcome the conqueror, were he Englishman or Frenchman. And I am not sure that she did not dream that night of becoming a duchess and Madame la Marechale, while Rawdon wrapped in his cloak, and making his bivouac under the rain at Mount Saint John, was thinking, with all the force of his heart, about the little wife whom he had left behind him.
The next day was a Sunday. And Mrs. Major O’Dowd had the satisfaction of seeing both her patients refreshed in health and spirits by some rest which they had taken during the night. She herself had slept on a great chair in Amelia’s room, ready to wait upon her poor friend or the ensign, should either need her nursing. When morning came, this robust woman went back to the house where she and her Major had their billet; and here performed an elaborate and splendid toilette, befitting the day. And it is very possible that whilst alone in that chamber, which her husband had inhabited, and where his cap still lay on the pillow, and his cane stood in the corner, one prayer at least was sent up to Heaven for the welfare of the brave soldier, Michael O’Dowd.
When she returned she brought her prayer-book with her, and her uncle the Dean’s famous book of sermons, out of which she never failed to read every Sabbath; not understanding all, haply, not pronouncing many of the words aright, which were long and abstruse—for the Dean was a learned man, and loved long Latin words—but with great gravity, vast emphasis, and with tolerable correctness in the main. How often has my Mick listened to these sermons, she thought, and me reading in the cabin of a calm! She proposed to resume this exercise on the present day, with Amelia and the wounded ensign for a congregation. The same service was read on that day in twenty thousand churches at the same hour; and millions of British men and women, on their knees, implored protection of the Father of all.
They did not hear the noise which disturbed our little congregation at Brussels. Much louder than that which had interrupted them two days previously, as Mrs. O’Dowd was reading the service in her best voice, the cannon of Waterloo began to roar.
When Jos heard that dreadful sound, he made up his mind that he would bear this perpetual recurrence of terrors no longer, and would fly at once. He rushed into the sick man’s room, where our three friends had paused in their prayers, and further interrupted them by a passionate appeal to Amelia.
“I can’t stand it any more, Emmy,” he said; “I won’t stand it; and you must come with me. I have bought a horse for you—never mind at what price—and you must dress and come with me, and ride behind Isidor.”
“God forgive me, Mr. Sedley, but you are no better than a coward,” Mrs. O’Dowd said, laying down the book.
“I say come, Amelia,” the civilian went on; “never mind what she says; why are we to stop here and be butchered by the Frenchmen?”
“You forget the —th, my boy,” said the little Stubble, the wounded hero, from his bed—”and and you won’t leave me, will you, Mrs. O’Dowd?”
“No, my dear fellow,” said she, going up and kissing the boy. “No harm shall come to you while I stand by. I don’t budge till I get the word from Mick. A pretty figure I’d be, wouldn’t I, stuck behind that chap on a pillion?”
This image caused the young patient to burst out laughing in his bed, and even made Amelia smile. “I don’t ask her,” Jos shouted out—”I don’t ask that—that Irishwoman, but you Amelia; once for all, will you come?”
“Without my husband, Joseph?” Amelia said, with a look of wonder, and gave her hand to the Major’s wife. Jos’s patience was exhausted.
“Good-bye, then,” he said, shaking his fist in a rage, and slamming the door by which he retreated. And this time he really gave his order for march: and mounted in the court-yard. Mrs. O’Dowd heard the clattering hoofs of the horses as they issued from the gate; and looking on, made many scornful remarks on poor Joseph as he rode down the street with Isidor after him in the laced cap. The horses, which had not been exercised for some days, were lively, and sprang about the street. Jos, a clumsy and timid horseman, did not look to advantage in the saddle. “Look at him, Amelia dear, driving into the parlour window. Such a bull in a china-shop I never saw.” And presently the pair of riders disappeared at a canter down the street leading in the direction of the Ghent road, Mrs. O’Dowd pursuing them with a fire of sarcasm so long as they were in sight.
All that day from morning until past sunset, the cannon never ceased to roar. It was dark when the cannonading stopped all of a sudden.
All of us have read of what occurred during that interval. The tale is in every Englishman’s mouth; and you and I, who were children when the great battle was won and lost, are never tired of hearing and recounting the history of that famous action. Its remembrance rankles still in the bosoms of millions of the countrymen of those brave men who lost the day. They pant for an opportunity of revenging that humiliation; and if a contest, ending in a victory on their part, should ensue, elating them in their turn, and leaving its cursed legacy of hatred and rage behind to us, there is no end to the so-called glory and shame, and to the alternations of successful and unsuccessful murder, in which two high-spirited nations might engage. Centuries hence, we Frenchmen and Englishmen might be boasting and killing each other still, carrying out bravely the Devil’s code of honour.
All our friends took their share and fought like men in the great field. All day long, whilst the women were praying ten miles away, the lines of the dauntless English infantry were receiving and repelling the furious charges of the French horsemen. Guns which were heard at Brussels were ploughing up their ranks, and comrades falling, and the resolute survivors closing in. Towards evening, the attack of the French, repeated and resisted so bravely, slackened in its fury. They had other foes besides the British to engage, or were preparing for a final onset. It came at last: the columns of the Imperial Guard marched up the hill of Saint Jean, at length and at once to sweep the English from the height which they had maintained all day, and spite of all: unscared by the thunder of the artillery, which hurled death from the English line—the dark rolling column pressed on and up the hill. It seemed almost to crest the eminence, when it began to wave and falter. Then it stopped, still facing the shot. Then at last the English troops rushed from the post from which no enemy had been able to dislodge them, and the Guard turned and fled.
No more firing was heard at Brussels—the pursuit rolled miles away. Darkness came down on the field and city: and Amelia was praying for George, who was lying on his face, dead, with a bullet through his heart.