Through each long line the curling volumes spread

After the troops crossed the Bulganak, strict silence was enjoined, and
no drum was beaten or bugle blown. Scattered parties of Russian cavalry
scoured all the ground before us; and as they galloped to and fro, the
gleam of Cossack lances, the flash of a carbine, or the steady glitter
of sword-blades and cuirasses, shone at times from among the groves of
the turpentine trees, and between the rocky undulations of the
landscape. Thus we, the British, could not make ourselves quite aware
of the nature of the ground we were approaching, while the French
marched straight and confidently towards certain great cliffs, which had
been carefully reconnoitred from the sea on the extreme right, and which
they were to storm, with the village of Almatamack, at the point of the
bayonet. At nine o’clock, the French on our right—Bosquet’s
column—halted, and quietly cooked their coffee, while our troops were
still moving laboriously over rough ground, to bring our flank closer to
theirs; and now, far beyond the extended columns of the allies—those
long, bright lines of bayonets, sloped barrels, and waving colours that
shone in the sun of a lovely morning—we saw the dark smoke of the
war-steamers towering into the clear air, as they crept in-shore,
seeking opportunities to open fire upon the Russian’s lofty position;
and at twenty minutes past ten we heard the first cannon booming, as
they threw their shot among the imperial troops in rear of the telegraph
station, which was distant nearly five thousand metres from the shore.
Two more protracted halts took place, while final consultations were
made between Lord Raglan and Marshal St. Arnaud; but still we were
drawing nearer the scene of the coming conflict.

Before us rolled the Alma—a picturesque river—which takes its rise among
the western slopes of the Chatyrdagh, in Crim Tartary, and falls into
the Euxine, about twelve miles from Sebastopol. High rises its southern
bank into picturesque rocks, that in some places are precipitous, and
terminate in a lofty cliff which overhangs the sea; and this formidable
position was to be defended against us by more than thirty-nine thousand
Russians and one hundred and six pieces of cannon, led by Prince
Alexander Menschikoff, one of the Emperor’s most distinguished generals,
who had entered the world as the son of a poor pastrycook, but who now
held the supreme civil and military command in the Crimea. A round shot
from a Turkish cannon had mutilated him severely at the siege of Varna,
and hence the hatred he bore the race and faith of the Osmanlis was deep
and fierce. His skill was not equal to his presumption, for he fully
thought—as a letter found in his carriage by Captain Travers of ours,
after the battle, asserted—that if the three invading armies were not
routed at the Alma, he would be fully able to defend its hills for three
weeks, until the Emperor sent him reinforcements from the steppes of
Bessarabia.

Two miles from the mouth of the Alma stood the picturesque little
village of Burliuk. It was now in flames, and the smoke of the
conflagration was rolling among the vineyards, which covered the slope
that extended between the stream and the base of those cliffs along
which glittered the hostile lines of the Russian army. Two miles in
length those lines extended along the hills, which were intersected by
deep ravines. On every ridge strong batteries of cannon swept the
approaches to these; deep trenches were dug along the mountain slopes,
and therein were posted the infantry. Constructed on the side of the
Kourgané Hill, which rises to the height of six hundred feet above the
Alma, was an enormous battery, forming two sides of a triangle, and
mounting fourteen heavy guns, thirty-two pounders, and twenty-four pound
howitzers. The ascent to this was commanded by three other batteries,
mounting twenty-five guns. To assail the Kourgané Hill—the right wing
of the Russian army—with all its cannon, howitzers, and trenches, was
the task assigned to the Light Division under Sir George Brown,
supported by the Duke of Cambridge, with the Guards and Highlanders; and
so intent was Menschikoff on its defence, that he had there concentrated
sixteen battalions of regular infantry, two battalions of sailors, and
two brigades of field-pieces. Near them were many ladies in carriages
from Sebastopol, and elsewhere, waiting to see the “English curs”
beaten.

During one of the protracted halts referred to, I could not help
thinking how lovely was the morning for the unholy work we had in hand!
The sun was without a cloud, and the soft breeze of the September morn
played along the grassy slopes, rustling the leaves of the olive and
turpentine groves, and the broader foliage of the vineyards, till at
last even its breath died away upon the summit of the hostile hills.
“It was then that in the allied armies there occurred,” says Kinglake,
“a singular pause of sound—a pause so general as to have been observed
and remembered by many in remote parts of the ground, and so marked that
its interruption by the mere neighing of an angry horse seized the
attention of thousands; and although this strange silence was the mere
result of weariness and chance, it seemed to carry a meaning; for it was
now that, after nearly forty years of peace, the great nations of Europe
were once more meeting for battle!”

The French steamers were now shelling the heights, the Russians making
but a poor response; and just as a bomb, splendidly thrown by the
former, among the smoke wreaths that curled round the brow of the
cliffs, unmasked an ambush which had been prepared for the advancing
Zouaves, after the smoke cleared away, showed by the prostrate forms of
the riflemen it slew, how well it had done its fatal work—just as I was
watching this episode, through my glass, I heard Studhome say,
“Norcliff, we are to go to the front.”

“Ours, alone?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Can’t say; but you see the danger of having a reputation, Newton,” said
Jack, laughing, for he was in unusual high spirits. “We lancers served
against the Pindarees in Central India, at Neerbudda, and elsewhere—the
men and horses, poor nags, change; but the name and the number remain.
Thus, you see what the honour of having a good name and gallant number
costs us. The lancers must advance.”

“Only your squadron, Captain Norcliff,” said Colonel Beverley, cantering
up to where we were halted in brigade; “you will advance and extend to
double the usual skirmishing distance, simply to feel the enemy.”

I saluted and gave the command, “Threes right—left-wheel—forward,” and
away we went at a swinging trot, with plumes and pennons glittering in
the air.

“If they hit you, Bill?” cried one of our men to Sergeant Dashwood, of
Wilford’s troop, which formed the left of my squadron.

“Bah! I escaped often enough in India,” said the sergeant, laughing;
“and, please Heaven, were it only for my poor wife’s sake, I shall do so
again.”

It did not please Heaven, however, for within one hour after this worthy
Sergeant Dashwood was lying on his back, pale and stiff, with a bullet
in his heart.

As we halted, formed line to the front, and extended from the right at
full speed, I heard Jocelyn of ours, a wild and extravagant fellow, say
to Sir Henry Scarlett, “I wonder how many infernal _post obits_ will be
cancelled to-day!”

We now advanced slowly over the open ground, halting at times, and every
moment gave us a clearer and nearer view of the enemy’s position.

I looked to the rear. How steadily they were coming on, those splendid
lines of British infantry—the Royal and the Welsh Fusiliers, the 19th,
and 33rd, and Connaught Rangers—stretching far away from flank to flank,
in scarlet—that glorious and historic colour, which fills at once the
eye and the mind—their bayonets flashing in the sun, and their colours
threateningly advanced, but hanging listless, for the wind had died
away. Thousands of those who were now marching there, in youth, and
pride, and health—whose place at home was still vacant in many a
parent’s heart—were doomed to fatten the earth with their bones, and
make the grass of future summers grow greener on the slopes of the Alma.
Strong memories of my early youth, of my dead mother’s face and voice,
were with me now, and tears came too—I scarcely knew why; but I felt
somewhat as if in a dream. I had a strong yearning also to see the
proud Louisa, the tender Cora Calderwood, and my kind old uncle—those I
might never see again.




I strove to imagine how Louisa Loftus would bear the shock of hearing
that I had fallen—if fall I should. When and by whom would the news be
broken to her? I thought, too, of the quiet old woods of Calderwood
Glen, under the shadow of the greater Lomond. There, at least, all was
peace, thank Heaven; and in my heart I prayed that long, long might it
be so. And strange it was, too, that in this exciting time, when so
many thousands of various races were about to close in the shock of
battle—when a few minutes more might see me face to face with
death—death by the cannon, the rifle, or the sabre—even while the
explosion of the French shells rung every instant in the air—there
flickered in my memory snatches of frivolous musical strains, and one or
two trivial mess-room incidents; so that the vast array along the Alma
seemed almost a phantasmagoria. But here a hand was laid upon my bridle
arm. It was the hand of my faithful follower, Willie Pitblado, who
slung his lance, and, sinking the soldier in the friend and countryman,
said, while his bright grey eyes sparkled under his lancer cap—

“Hear you that, sir? It is the pipes of the Highland brigade!”

We were so far to the right of our squadron as to be close to the
division of the Duke of Cambridge, which was composed of the Grenadier,
Coldstream, and Scots Fusilier Guards, with three of the Highland
regiments (the 42nd, 79th, and 93rd), whose pipers were now playing each
the pibroch of their corps during the second halt; and then over all the
field the old wild “memory of a thousand years” was kindled in every
Scotchman’s heart. I felt his enthusiasm; I saw that Willie felt it
too, and in the kindly smile we exchanged there was conveyed a world of
hidden sentiment. Wild, barbarous, and uncouth as it may be deemed—an
instrument, perhaps, beyond improvement—the voice of the war-pipe seldom
falls without a strange and stirring effect upon the Scottish ear; and
let neither Englishman nor Irishman ever trust that Scot who hears it
unmoved by the love of country and of home. There is something rotten
at his heart’s core! In whatever part of the distant world a Scotchman
hears its strange notes, and the hoarse hum of its deep bass drones, it
sets him dreaming of home; of the old thatched cottage in the
mountain-glen, where the trouting burn gurgles under the long yellow
broom, or “the auld brigstane” where he fished in boyhood; and with its
voice come back the faces of “the loved, the lost, the distant, and the
dead,” and the glories and the battles of the years that are gone. He
sees, too, the old kirk, where he prayed by his mother’s knee; the
graveyard, with all its mossy stones, and the forms of those who are
lying there rise again in memory’s eye. So the storm-beaten Isleman may
seem to hear once more the waves that lash on Jura’s rocks, or the
scream of the wild birds over Scarba’s shore, when ploughing far away in
the wastes of the Indian Sea. It is difficult to define what this
influence is; but that Scot is little to be envied who hears the warpipe
unmoved, when far away from home, or as we heard it on that day beside
the Alma; and though proud of his lancer regiment, I could see that my
comrade Willie’s heart was with the Highlanders, whose dark plumes were
tossing on our right. It was at this time that Sir Colin Campbell, in
his quiet, grave way, said to one of his officers, as the historian
before quoted records, “This will be a good time for the men to get
loose half their cartridges.”

“And when the command travelled along the ranks of the Highlanders, it
lit up the faces of the men one after another, assuring them that now,
at length, and after long expectance, they indeed would go into action.
They began obeying the order, and with beaming joy, for they came of a
warlike race; yet not without emotion of a grave kind. They were young
soldiers, and new to battle.”

But now the trumpets recalled us to our brigade in rear of the infantry,
who had the chief work of that bloody day to do. And just as we wheeled
into our places, a roar of musketry on our right announced that the
impetuous French had commenced the attack! The enemy’s shot and shell
were coming souse among us now, and many heard for the first time the
fierce rushing sound, and then the mighty shock, as a bullet ripped up
the earth, or swept a man away; while shells that burst in mid-air fell
in hissing showers, that tore our clothing with their jagged edges, when
they failed to wound. Dashing through the Alma, in front of the steep
cliffs, under a terrific shower of round shot, grape, and musketry,
which clothed the whole face of the slopes with spouting lines of white
smoke, streaked with flashes of fire, waking a thousand echoes in the
sky above and earth below, the French poured forward in yelling and
impetuous masses. Fresh from their campaigns and conquests in burning
Algeria, those fierce little Zouaves, in their blue jackets, red
breeches, and turbans, active as mountain goats, were seen swarming up
at the point of the bayonet, and forming in two lines, which charged
with headlong rush on the astonished Muscovites, whose general, being
thus completely outflanked on the cliffs being scaled, sought, but
sought in vain, to change his front, and drive the French from those
hills they had taken so rapidly and so gallantly, but at awful loss.

“Allah-Allah Hu!” was now the cry that rent the air, as the Turks
advanced.

Under their green standards—the holy colour—with the crescent and star,
massed in close column at quarter distance, the Turkish troops came on;
and through the sea of red fezzes the cannon balls made many a deadly
lane, until the battalions deployed into line, sending, as Studhome
said, “many a believer to Paradise in a state of mutilation such as the
houris wouldn’t appreciate.” But on they went against that sheet of
lead and iron, shoulder to shoulder with the French; and many a shaven
crown and many a scarlet fez, with its broad military button and blue
tassel, were lying on the turf, while, with visions of the dark-eyed
girls of Paradise waving their green scarves from their couches of
pearl, and crying, “Come, kiss me, for I love thee,” many a grim,
Turkish soul passed forth into the night of death. On the other flank
were the French linesmen, crying on “_Dieu, et la Mère de Dieu_,” to
help them in their last agony, while the sisters of charity and the
_vivandières_ rivalled each other in the rear in their attention to the
wounded and dying.