Proved in the under-written Odyssey

The letter from the Under Secretary of State for War, which announced my
capture by the Russians, unfortunately proved more correct in its tenor
than the telegram; but the mode in which I fell into their hands,
through the foul treachery of Mr. De Warr Berkeley, shall be detailed by
myself in the following chapter.

On the 23rd of September, early in the morning, we bade adieu to the
Alma, and to all those sad mounds that now lay along its southern bank,
marking where seven thousand seven hundred and eighty soldiers were
taking their last long slumber.

The dying Marshal St. Arnaud—for he took the field literally in a dying
state—wished us to advance on the day immediately after the battle, as
his intention was to be at Sebastopol by the 23rd, at latest.

“If,” said he, in one of his letters, “I land in the Crimea, and it
pleases God to give me a smooth sea for a few hours, I shall be master
of Sebastopol and of the whole Crimea; I will push on this war with an
activity and energy that shall strike the Russians with terror!”

But the humane Lord Raglan declined to advance until the wounded of all
countries were attended to; and to that high-spirited hero and Christian
gentleman, Dr. Thompson, of the 44th—still remembered in his native
Scottish village as “the surgeon of the Alma”—was committed the care of
seven hundred and fifty Russian soldiers, who had lain in their blood on
the field for sixty hours. Accompanied by one attendant, with only a
flag of truce displayed upon a lance to protect him from the savage and
vindictive Cossacks who were hovering about, that self-devoted man
worked without ceasing in the care and cure of those miserable
creatures, who were all lying side by side, collected in one place—the
acre of wounded—a task which proved too great in the end for his
energies, as he died of fatigue and cholera soon after the battle.

The day after we marched, Death, who had hovered beside the great French
marshal, even while his baton directed the movements of his zouaves and
riflemen, seized more firmly on his victim, and on the 29th St. Arnaud
died of cholera—that fatal pest, which still hung upon our skirts.

Our wounded, after the Alma, were conveyed in great numbers in those
_kabitkas_, some of which I had personally secured; and these, after
delivering their suffering and dying loads to the boats’ crews, had to
bring back supplies to the camp. Many of those open carts broke down,
and were abandoned on the road with their contents; and thus, after we
marched, it was no uncommon event for us to find seven or eight
soldiers, dead, or dying of wounds and cholera, above the bags of
biscuit intended for the use of the troops.

The morning of the 23rd beheld us set forth hopefully on our march to
Sebastopol, where we hoped to crown our efforts by its speedy capture
and destruction.

No enemy was visible to oppose our advance, and save here and there a
broken-down _kabitka_, a dead Russian, who had fallen in his flight, and
lay by the wayside in his leather helmet and long coat, with the
vultures hovering over him; save these, and a deserted cannon, and the
deep wheel-tracks in the rough old Tartar road, no trace remained of the
great host we had swept before us in disorder and dismay.

In the afternoon of that day, we reached the beautiful valley of the
Katcha (seventeen miles from Sebastopol), a river which has its source
among the mountains of Taurida, and flows into the Black Sea, a little
below Mamachai.

The valley is fertile, and we had all the enjoyment of abundant
provender and water. We occupied the pretty little village of Eskel,
which Baur and Kiriakoff’s retreating Cossacks had plundered and
partially destroyed, and piles of broken furniture around the
tastefully-decorated villas of the more opulent residents evinced their
destructive spirit.

Studhome, Travers, Sir Harry Scarlett, and I possessed ourselves of a
pretty little villa, with painted lattices of coloured glass, and rooms
neatly—even handsomely—furnished. A piano, and some pieces of music from
Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell,” Strauss’s waltzes, &c., were scattered
about, showing that the fair occupants had fled at our approach; but
nearly all the furniture and every utensil had been destroyed.

With his carbine, Pitblado had shot a brace of fine fat ducks, just in
time to anticipate those most active of foragers, the Zouaves, and they
were stewed in a warming-pan, which he had luckily discovered, and
utilized for culinary purposes, the fuel used being the front door of
the villa, the wood that came most readily to hand.

We had a comfortable supper, and Travers and Scarlett, who were wont to
be fastidious enough with the mess-waiters about the icing of their
sparkling hock or Moselle, were now content to wash down their stewed
duck with a draught of water from a stale wooden canteen. But then we
had gorgeous bunches of emerald green and dewy purple grapes, from the
vineyards close by, and melons and peaches, too; and these we ate in
defiance of prudence and the cholera.

We had just lit our cigars, and my cornet, Sir Harry, was trying his
hand on the piano, through which some inquiring Cossack had poked his
lance two or three times, when the trumpet-major arrived with letters
for us all; the mails from England had just come in and been
distributed. Many a letter was there for those whom we had left in
their graves behind us!

A letter from Sir Nigel! I recognised his bold, old-fashioned
handwriting. There was none from Cora (but she had scarcely ever
written to me), and there was none yet from Louisa Loftus!

Alas! I had ceased to hope for one from her. Yet I paused with good
Sir Nigel’s letter unopened in my hand, while my friends were busy with
theirs.

How was it that, as doubt, jealousy, and irritation gathered in my mind
concerning Louisa, I thought more of Cora, and that her soft features,
her sweet, earnest expression, her nose, that bordered on the retroussé,
her thick dark hair, and brilliantly fair complexion, came before me?

I opened my uncle’s letter. It contained little else than country
gossip, and his usual ideas on things in general; but some of these
seemed odd and startling to me then, as I read them in that Russian
villa, far away in Crim Tartary, with the hum of our camp mingling in my
ears with the rush of the mountain Katcha, as it poured through its
stony vale towards the sea.

The letter had been posted before news had reached Calderwood of our
departure from Varna.

“So the army is to remain inactive till half its number die of cholera;
and then the rest are to open a campaign against Russia at the beginning
of winter. History has no parallel for such—shall I call it madness?
But I tell you,” continued the furious old Tory, “that the Whigs—a party
which never yet made war with honour—have sold you to the Russians, and
_Punch_ alone dares boldly to expose it.” (Pleasant, thought I, to read
this within a short ride of Sebastopol!) “Every Scottish statesman had,
and still has, his price. In the olden time they were always ready to
sell Scotland to England, and why should one of the same brood hesitate
in selling both to the Russians now?

“My friend, Spittal of Lickspittal, the M.P., of course ridicules this
idea; but that is no proof of our suspicions being incorrect. He and
the Lord Advocate—that especial ministerial utensil for Scotland—have
put their small brains in steep to prepare some bill for the
assimilation of our laws; but strive though they may, they can never
assimilate them. And while Englishmen may bow with respect to the
decision of Mr. Justice Muggins, to our ears an interlocutor sounds
better when delivered by my Lord Calderwood, Pitcaple, or so forth.

“By the way, Cora has had a dangler, a new admirer, for some time past;
and who the deuce do you think he is? Young Mr. Brassy Wheedleton, son
of old Wheedleton, the village lawyer here—one of those fellows who
should be in front of Sebastopol just now, with sixty rounds of
ammunition at his back, instead of loafing about the Parliament House
with his hands in his pockets.

“He is a greater snob than your brother officer, Mr. De Warr Berkeley
(whose patronymic was Dewar Barclay, and who once asked, when I was
fishing six miles up the Eden, if I ’’ad ’ooked many ’addocks’).
Whenever little Brassy comes here anent that d——d bond, he lays close
siege to Cora, with flowers, books, music, and pretty nothings; but she
only laughs at this Edinburgh goose, who neither speaks English nor
Irish, Scotch nor the unknown tongue; who pronounces lord ’lud,’ and
cat, what, or that as ’ket, whet, or thet,’ and so forth. Believe me,
Newton, there is no more grotesque piece of human carrion than a genuine
Scotch snob, in a high state of Anglophobia.

“I am sorry to say it, but the honourable position of the Scottish bar
is simply traditional—a thing of the past. To the English barrister,
the House of Lords, the woolsack, and the highest offices of the state
are open; but to his poor Scotch brother, since the Union, after
blacking the boots of the Lord Advocate, and scribbling in defence of
his party, whatever it may be, a wretched sheriffship is all he may get,
unless, like Mansfield, Brougham, or Erskine, he casts his gown inside
the bar, and crosses the border for ever.

“Any way, I don’t like Cora’s dangler; but the fellow is plausible, and
will be deuced hard to get rid of, unless Pitblado could mistake him for
a partridge, or Splinterbar bolt across country with him, after we have
given her a feed of oats, dashed with brandy.

“I wish you could see Cora, as the good girl sits opposite me just now,
reading. Her dark hair smoothly braided over her tiny ears; a muslin
dress of pink and white, fastened by your old Rangoon brooch; and she
blushes scarlet with pleasure as she desires me to send her love to
you.”

So ended this eccentric letter.

I felt irritated. But why should I? Cora might have a lover if she
chose. But then to throw herself away upon old Wheedleton’s son—old
Wheedleton, whose father was the village tailor!

Something like an oath escaped me; but at that moment Sergeant-Major
Drillem made his appearance, to announce that my squadron, with that of
Captain Travers, was detailed for the advanced guard of cavalry on the
Belbeck road, and that the trumpets would sound “boot and saddle” an
hour before dawn to-morrow.




In the dusk we got under arms, mounted, and, with the troops riding in
sections of threes, I rode from Eskel at a slow pace, crossed the
Katcha—a position stronger, in some respects, than the Alma, and which
the Russians might have disputed by inches, had we not cowed them; and
then we took the road towards Belbeck, while the whole army was getting
under arms.

My orders were simply to be on the alert, to advance in line when the
ground was sufficiently open for such a formation, and to “feel the way”
towards Belbeck, which lay only four miles distant. Such were the
instructions given to me by Colonel Beverley, whose eyes sparkled at the
coming work, for he was one of that race of men “known by the kindling
grey eye and the light, stubborn, crisping hair—disclosing the rapture
of instant fight.”

As we moved off we nearly trampled down a wounded cornet of the 11th
Hussars, who lay under a tree.

“That wretched little cornet of yours,” said Berkeley to a captain of
the 11th; “he reminds me—haw—of one of the new Minie rifles.”

“How?” asked the other, coldly.

“He is a small bore—haw—what do you think of the pun?”

“That it is poor, and the occasion is bad,” replied the hussar, sternly.
“The poor boy will be dead before sunset.”

“A doocid good thing for himself, and—haw—for us, too. He always beats
us at billiards,” was the heartless response of Berkeley.

“Is it true,” said I, “that Lieutenant Maxe, of the navy, has opened a
communication with our fleet at Balaclava?”

“Yes,” said Travers. “Bolton and Nolan informed me that the allied
generals were most anxious to secure it by a flank movement, especially
as it is slightly defended; and to announce this intention to the
fleets, which follow our movements, became the task of Maxe, who rode by
night through a woody district, literally swarming with Cossacks,
skirting Sebastopol; and with no aid but his brave heart, his sword and
pistols, arranged the combined sea and land movements so essential to
our success.”

“Gallant, indeed!” we exclaimed, as we rode off.

On our right lay the ocean, its waves, as they rose and fell, beginning
to be tipped with light, as the dawn brightened over the high ground
that rose on our left. The country became hilly in our front, and, as
it was open for a time, I formed the squadron, and advanced in line,
diverging a little to the east, in the direction of Duvankoi, a village
which is exactly five miles from Belbeck.

In fact, we advanced straight between these two places towards the
valley through which rolls the river that bears the latter name, and
which comes from the lofty table land of the Yaila, fed on its course by
all the mountain streams of the Ousenbakh.

The birds were singing merrily among the trees when the sun burst forth,
to light the glancing bayonets of the advancing columns in our rear; and
now before us opened the vale of the Belbeck, with all its groves of
vine and olive, as we crowned an eminence, from whence we could see the
woody ravines of Khutor-Mackenzie, and, ten miles to the westward, the
gilded dome of Sebastopol shining like a huge inverted bowl. From this
point the road lay through woods so thick, that we found it impossible
to preserve much military order, and the utmost vigilance was necessary
on the part of our exploring squadron, as scattered troops of the enemy
were supposed to be in our vicinity.

Lord Raglan, with his staff, usually rode in advance of our main body;
but on this morning my little party was in advance of the whole. As we
defiled between the trees, that covered all the slope, by sections, by
subdivisions, and frequently by single files, struggling along at a slow
pace, but with our horses well in hand, I had repeatedly to address
Berkeley in a tone of reprimand, for the loose and unnecessary manner in
which he was permitting the men to straggle, and his mode of response
was rather sullen, defiant, and, on one occasion, jeering.

“Aw—the dooce! very easy for you to speak. I didn’t make the road to
Belbeck,” he would mutter. And once he added, “A demmed fool I not to
send in my papers long ago—aw—aw—doocid deal too good-looking to be shot
in a ditch.”

Suddenly I called out—

“Front form troops at wheeling distance, and halt!” for now I perceived
that Sir Harry Scarlett, who was in advance with four lancers, halted
them, and sent back a corporal, who came along at a hand-gallop.

“Hullo, Travers, old fellow, what’s up, do you think—aw—aw—what’s the
row in front?” asked Berkeley, with haste and anxiety, as he stuck his
glass in his eye, and fidgeted in his saddle.

“The Russians, no doubt,” said Travers, drily, as his handsome face
brightened with courage and excitement.

“Ah, I thought so,” said I. “Are they in force, Corporal Jones?”

“We can’t tell, sir; but lance-heads, and bayonets too, are visible
among the coppice in front.”

By this time the two troops had formed, and halted in open column,
quietly and orderly, the leading three files of each having advanced for
three horses’ lengths, and then reined in as if upon parade.

“We can’t well use the lance here. Unsling carbines! Remain where you
are, Travers,” said I. “Mr. Berkeley and two files from the right,
forward with me—trot!”

I drew my sword, cast loose my holster flaps, and rode on with the
little party, all of whom followed me willingly enough, save one.

On joining the advanced party, we made ten horsemen altogether.
Proceeding farther, to where the ground dipped somewhat suddenly down
towards the Belbeck river, we could see, about a mile distant, a body of
Russian cavalry, whose spiked leather helmets and lance-heads glittered
in the sun. They were drawn up in line, their flanks being covered by
thickets, which concealed their actual strength, so that we knew not
whether they were a mere squadron or an entire brigade.

Berkeley, who was nervously busy with his powerful racing-glass,
muttered—

“I see an officer on a white horse. By Jove! a doocid swell—aw, aw—all
over decorations.”

After using my own telescope, I exclaimed—

“He is the same fellow we released in the evening after the Alma, when
Bolton came up with orders for the cavalry to fall back and abandon
prisoners. I know him by his grim visage and enormous white moustache.”

“Aw—aw—a general officer, I take him to be.”

“Now, lads,” said I, “be steady. I think I saw the glitter of a bayonet
among that brushwood in front. There may be an ambush prepared
thereabout, and into that we must not fall.”

I could not help thinking how useful a few hand-grenades would have been
on this occasion, as they would soon have solved our doubts.

To have fallen back would have served only to draw their fire upon us
instantly, if any men were concealed there.

“Follow me, lads!” I exclaimed. “Mr. Berkeley, keep the rear rank men
in their places.”

“Captain Norcliff, asthore!” cried Lanty O’Regan, shaking his lance,
“lead the way, and, be me troth, we’ll ride through the whole rookawn o’
them Roosians!”

Followed by my nine horsemen, I rode resolutely forward a few
lance-lengths, my heart beating wildly with excitement; but a climax was
soon put to that, for a hoarse voice in a strange language suddenly rang
among the underwood; fire flashed redly on both sides of us; I heard the
whistle of passing bullets, and amid the explosion of thirty Minie
rifles a double cry, as Berkeley and one of my men fell heavily on the
turf. The horse of the former was shot; but the poor lancer was
mortally wounded, and his charger galloped madly away.

“Good-bye, old nag. You will never carry Bill Jones again, I fear,”
cried the bleeding corporal, as he was hurrying to the rear with his
lance on his shoulder, when a second shot pierced his back, and finished
his career.

“Retire, Travers, retire!” I shouted at the fullest pitch of my voice;
“right about, lads, and away!”

The firing from the thicket was resumed, and another lancer fell dead
from his saddle.

“Aw—aw—for Heaven’s sake, don’t leave me here!” cried Berkeley,
piteously, while we heard the steel ramrods ringing, as the Russians
cast about and reloaded.

While the rest of my party retired at a gallop, I caught the fallen
lancer’s horse by the bridle, and—in less time than I take to write
it—dragged up the pale and crestfallen Berkeley, who scrambled rather
than mounted into the blood-covered saddle, and we galloped off
together, another shot or two adding spurs to our speed, and strewing
the leaves about us. So close were we to this ambush that I heard many
of the percussion caps snapping, as the Russian muskets doubtless
remained foul since the Alma.

Berkeley’s fresh horse carried him half its length before mine; he was
riding with wild despair in his heart; and bitter malice glittering in
his eye, for he felt that I had been heaping coals of fire upon his
head. I could read the double emotion in his pale face, as he glanced
fearfully back.

He had drawn a pistol from its holster, and, inspired by the spirit of
the devil, the unnatural wretch discharged it full into my horse’s head!

Wildly it plunged into the air, and then fell forward on its head, and,
as its forelegs bent, I toppled heavily over, and fell beneath it.

The whole affair passed in a moment, and the next saw me surrounded by
fierce and exulting Russian riflemen, with muskets clubbed and bayonets
charged.

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