It is usual in war for the guns and the sentinels always to face toward the enemy, however far off he may be. A battery placed in advance of the camp was therefore turned toward the river, and sentries were walking on the top of the bank. The trees prevented them from seeing the extreme edge, while from the boat I could see through the branches a great part of the bivouac. So far my mission had been more successful than I had ventured to hope, but in order to make the success complete I had to bring away a prisoner, and to execute such an operation fifty paces away from several thousand enemies, whom a single cry would rouse, seemed very difficult.
Still, I had to do something. I made the five sailors lie down at the bottom of the boat under guard of two grenadiers, another grenadier I posted at the bow of the boat, which was close to the bank, and myself disembarked, sword in hand, followed by the corporal and two grenadiers. The boat was a few feet from dry land; we had to walk in the water, but at last we were on the slope. We went up, and I was making ready to rush on the nearest sentry, disarm him, gag him, and drag him off to the boat, when the ring of metal and the sound of singing in a low voice fell on my ears. A man, carrying a great tin pail, was coming to draw water, humming a song as he went; we quickly went down again to the river to hide under the branches, and as the Austrian stooped to fill his pail, my grenadiers seized him by the throat, put a handkerchief full of wet sand over his mouth, and placing their sword-points against his body, threatened him with death if he resisted or uttered a sound.
Utterly bewildered, the man obeyed, and let us take him to the boat; we hoisted him into the hands of the grenadiers posted there, who made him lie down beside the sailors. While this Austrian was lying captured, I saw by his clothes that he was not, strictly speaking, a soldier, but an officer's servant. I should have preferred to catch a combatant who could have given me more precise information; but I was going to content myself with this capture for want of a better, when I saw, at the top of the slope, two soldiers carrying a caldron between them on a pole. They were only a few paces off. It was impossible for us to re-embark without being seen. I therefore signed to my grenadiers to hide themselves again, and as soon as the two Austrians stooped to fill their vessel, powerful arms seized them from behind and plunged their heads under water. We had to stupefy them a little, since they had their swords, and I feared that they might resist. Then they were picked up in turn, their mouths covered with a handkerchief full of sand, and sword-points against their breasts constrained them to follow us. They were shipped as the servant had been, and my men and I got on board again.
So far, all had gone well. I made the sailors get up and take their oars, and ordered the corporal to cast loose the rope which held us to the bank. It was, however, so wet, and the knot had been drawn so tight by the force of the stream, that it was impossible to unfasten. We had to saw the rope, which took us some minutes.
Meanwhile, the rope, shaking with our efforts, imparted its movement to the branches of the willow round which it was wrapped, and the rustling became loud enough to attract the notice of the sentry. He drew near, unable to see the boat, but perceiving that the agitation of the branches increased, he called out, "Who goes there?" No answer. Further challenge from the sentry. We held our tongues and worked away. I was in deadly fear; after facing so many dangers, it would have been too cruel if we were wrecked in sight of port.
At last the rope was cut, and the boat pushed off. But hardly was it clear of the overhanging willows than the light of the bivouac fires made it visible to the sentry, who, shouting "To arms!" fired at us. No one was hit; but at the sound the whole camp was astir in a moment, and the gunners, whose pieces were ready loaded and trained on the river, honored my boat with some cannon-shots. At the report my heart leaped for joy, for I knew that the emperor and marshal would hear it. I turned my eyes toward the convent, with its lighted windows, of which I had, in spite of the distance, never lost sight. Probably all were open at this moment, but in one only could I perceive any increase of brilliancy; it was the great balcony window, which was as large as the doorway of a church, and sent from afar a flood of light over the stream. Evidently, it had just been opened at the thunder of the cannon, and I said to myself, "The emperor and the marshals are doubtless on the balcony; they know that I have reached the enemy's camp, and are making vows for my safe return." This thought raised my courage, and I heeded the cannon-balls not a bit. Indeed, they were not very dangerous, for the stream swept us along at such a pace that the gunners could not aim with any accuracy, and we must have been very unlucky to get hit. One shot would have done for us, but all fell harmless into the Danube. Soon I was out of range, and could reckon a successful issue to my enterprise. Still, all danger was not yet at an end.
We had still to cross among the floating pine-stems, and more than once we struck on submerged islands, and were delayed by the branches of the poplars. At last we reached the right bank, more than two leagues below Molk, and a new terror assailed me. I could see bivouac fires, and had no means of learning whether they belonged to a French regiment. The enemy had troops on both banks, and I knew that on the right bank Marshal Lannes's outposts were not far from Molk, facing an Austrian corps, posted at Saint-Polten.
Our army would doubtless go forward at daybreak, but was it already occupying this place? And were the fires that I saw those of friends or enemies? I was afraid that the current had taken me too far down, but the problem was solved by French cavalry trumpets sounding the reveille. Our uncertainty being at an end, we rowed with all our strength to the shore, where in the dawning light we could see a village. As we drew near, the report of a carbine was heard, and a bullet whistled by our ears. It was evident that the French sentries took us for a hostile crew. I had not foreseen this possibility, and hardly knew how we were to succeed in getting recognized, till the happy thought struck me of making my six grenadiers shout "Vive l'Empereur Napoleon!" This was, of course, no certain evidence that we were French, but it would attract the attention of the officers, who would have no fear of our small numbers, and would no doubt prevent the men from firing on us before they knew whether we were French or Austrians. A few moments later I came ashore, and I was received by Colonel Gautrin and the 9th Hussars, forming part of Lannes's division. If we had landed half a league lower down we should have tumbled into the enemy's pickets.
The colonel lent me a horse, and gave me several wagons, in which I placed the grenadiers, the boatmen, and the prisoners, and the little cavalcade went off toward Molk. As we went along, the corporal, at my orders, questioned the three Austrians, and I learned with satisfaction that the camp whence I had brought them away belonged to the very division, General Hiller's, the position of which the emperor was so anxious to learn. There was, therefore, no further doubt that that general had joined the archduke on the other side of the Danube. There was no longer any question of a battle on the road which we held, and Napoleon, having only the enemy's cavalry in front of him, could in perfect safety push his troops forward toward Vienna, from which we were but three easy marches distant.
With this information I galloped, forward, in order to bring it to the emperor with the least possible delay.
When I reached the gate of the monastery, it was broad day. I found the approach blocked by the whole population of the little town of Molk, and heard among the crowd the cries of the wives, children, and friends of the sailors whom I had carried off. In a moment I was surrounded by them, and was able to calm their anxiety by saying, in very bad German, "Your friends are alive, and you will see them in a few moments." A great cry of joy went up from the crowd, bringing out the officer in command of the guard at the gate. On seeing me he ran off in pursuance of orders to warn the aides-de-camp to let the emperor know of my return. In an instant the whole palace was up. The good Marshal Lannes came to me, embraced me cordially, and carried me straight off to the emperor, crying out, "Here he is, sir; I knew he would come back. He has brought three prisoners from General Hiller's division." Napoleon received me warmly, and though I was wet and muddy all over, he laid his hand on my shoulder, and did not forget to give his greatest sign of satisfaction by pinching my ear. I leave you to imagine how I was questioned! The emperor wanted to know every incident of the adventure in detail, and when I had finished my story said, "I am very well pleased with you, 'Major' Marbot." These words were equivalent to a commission, and my joy was full. At that moment, a chamberlain announced that breakfast was served, and as I was calculating on having to wait in the gallery until the emperor had finished, he pointed with his finger toward the dining-room, and said, "You will breakfast with me." As this honor had never been paid to any officer of my rank, I was the more flattered. During breakfast I learned that the emperor and the marshal had not been to bed all night, and that when they heard the cannon on the opposite bank they had all rushed onto the balcony. The emperor made me tell again the way in which I had surprised the three prisoners, and laughed much at the fright and surprise which they must have felt.
At last, the arrival of the wagons was announced, but they had much difficulty in making their way through the crowd, so eager were the people to see the boatmen. Napoleon, thinking this very natural, gave orders to open the gates, and let everybody come into the court. Soon after, the grenadiers, the boatmen, and the prisoners were led into the gallery. The emperor, through his interpreter, first questioned the three Austrian soldiers, and learning with satisfaction that not only General Hiller's corps, but the whole of the archduke's army, were on the other bank, he told Berthier to give the order for the troops to march at once on Saint-Polten.
Then, calling up the corporal and the five soldiers, he fastened the Cross on their breast, appointed them knights of the empire, and gave them an annuity of 1,200 francs apiece. All the veterans wept for joy. Next came the boatmen's turn. The emperor told them that, as the danger they had run was a good deal more than he had expected, it was only fair that he should increase their reward; so instead of the 6,000 francs promised, 12,000 in gold were given to them on the spot. Nothing could express their delight; they kissed the hands of the emperor and all present, crying, "Now we are rich!" Napoleon laughingly asked the leader if he would go the same journey for the same price the next night. But the man answered that, having escaped by miracle what seemed certain death, he would not undertake such a journey again even if his lordship, the abbot of Molk, would give him the monastery and all its possessions. The boatmen withdrew, blessing the generosity of the French emperor, and the grenadiers, eager to show off their decoration before their comrades, were about to go off with their three prisoners, when Napoleon perceived that the Austrian servant was weeping bitterly.
He reassured him as to his safety, but the poor lad replied, sobbing, that he knew the French treated their prisoners well, but that, as he had on him a belt containing nearly all his captain's money, he was afraid that the officer would accuse him of deserting in order to rob him, and he was heart-broken at the thought. Touched by the worthy fellow's distress, the emperor told him that he was free, and as soon as we were before Vienna he would be passed through the outposts, and be able to return to his master. Then, taking a rouleau of 1,000 francs, he put it in the man's hand, saying, "One must honor goodness wherever it is shown." Lastly, the emperor gave some pieces of gold to each of the other two prisoners, and ordered that they too should be sent back to the Austrian outposts, so that they might forget the fright which we had caused them.
A RESCUE FROM SHIPWRECK
By Arthur Quiller-Couch
On the 13th of October, 1811, we were cruising in the _Endymion_, off the north of Ireland, in a fine clear day succeeding one in which it had almost blown a hurricane. The master had just taken his meridian observation, the officer of the watch had reported the latitude, the captain had ordered it to be made twelve o'clock, and the boatswain, catching a word from the lieutenant, was in the full swing of his "Pipe to dinner!" when the captain called out--
"Stop! stop! I meant to go about first."
"Pipe belay! Mr. King," smartly ejaculated the officer of the watch, addressing the boatswain; which words, being heard over the decks, caused a sudden cessation of the sounds peculiar to that hungry season. The cook stood with a huge six-pound piece of pork uplifted on his tormentors, his mate ceased to bale out the pea-soup, and the whole ship seemed paralysed. The boatswain, having checked himself in the middle of his long-winded dinner-tune, drew a fresh inspiration, and dashed off into the opposite sharp, abrupt, cutting sound of the "Pipe belay!" the essence of which peculiar note is that its sounds should be understood and acted on with the utmost degree of promptitude.
There was now a dead pause of perfect silence all over the ship, in expectation of what was to come next. All eyes were turned to the chief.
"No; never mind; we'll wait," cried the good-natured captain, unwilling to interfere with the comforts of the men; "let them go to dinner; we shall tack at one o'clock, it will do just as well."
The boatswain, at a nod from the lieutenant of the watch, at once recommenced his merry "Pipe to dinner" notes; upon which a loud, joyous laugh rang from one end of the ship to the other. This hearty burst was not in the slightest degree disrespectful; on the contrary, it sounded like a grateful expression of glee at the prospect of the approaching good things which, by this time, were finding their speedy course down the hatchways.
Nothing was now heard but the cheerful chuckle of a well-fed company, the clatter of plates and knives, and the chit-chat of light hearts under the influence of temperate excitement.
When one o'clock came, the hands were called "About ship!" But as the helm was in the very act of going down, the look-out-man at the fore-topmast head called out--
"I see something a little on the lee-bow, sir!"
"Something! What do you mean by 'something'?" cried the first lieutenant, making a motion to the quarter-master at the con to right the helm again.
"I don't know what it is, sir," cried the man; "it is black, however."
"Black! Is it like a whale?" asked the officer, playing a little with his duty.
"Yes, sir," cried the look-out-man, unconscious that Shakespeare had been before him, "very like a whale!"
The captain and the officer exchanged glances at the poor fellow aloft having fallen into the trap laid for him, and the temptation must have been great to have inquired whether it were not "like a weasel"; but this might have been stretching the jest too far; so the lieutenant merely called to the signal midshipman, and desired him to skull up to the mast-head with his glass, to see what he made of the look-out-man's whale.
"It looks like a small rock," cried young "Skylark" as soon as he reached the top-gallant-yard and had taken the glass from his shoulders, across which he had slung it with a three-yarn fox.
"Stuff and nonsense!" replied the officers, "there are no rocks hereabouts; we can but just see the top of Muckish, behind Tory Island. Take another spy at your object, youngster; the mast-head-man and you will make it out to be something by-and-by, between you, I dare say."
"It's a boat, sir!" roared out the boy. "It's a boat adrift, two or three points on the lee-bow."
"Oh-ho!" said the officer, "that may be, sir," turning with an interrogative air to the captain, who gave orders to keep the frigate away a little that this strange-looking affair might be investigated. Meanwhile, as the ship was not to be tacked, the watch was called, and one half only of the people remained on deck. The rest strolled, sleepy, below; or disposed themselves in the sun on the lee gangway, mending their clothes, or telling long yarns.
A couple of fathoms of the fore and main sheets, and a slight touch of the weather topsail and top-gallant braces, with a check on the bow-lines, made the swift-footed _Endymion_ spring forward, like a greyhound slipped from the leash. In a short time we made out that the object we were in chase of was, in fact, a boat. On approaching a little nearer, some heads of people became visible, and then several figures stood up, waving their hats to us. We brought to, just to windward of them, and sent a boat to see what was the matter.
It turned out as we supposed; they had belonged to a ship which had foundered in the recent gale. Although their vessel had become water-logged, they had contrived to hoist their long-boat out, and to stow in her twenty-one persons, some of them seamen and some passengers; of these, two were women, and three children. Their vessel, it appeared, had sprung a leak in middle of the gale, and, in spite of all their pumping, the water gained so fast upon them that they took to baling as a more effectual method. After a time, when this resource failed, the men, totally worn out and quite dispirited, gave it up as a bad job, abandoned their pumps, and actually lay down to sleep. In the morning the gale broke; but the ship had filled in the meantime, and was falling fast over her broadside. With some difficulty they disentangled the long-boat from the wreck, and thought themselves fortunate in being able to catch hold of a couple of small oars, with a studding-sail-boom for a mast, on which they hoisted a fragment of their main-hatchway tarpaulin for a sail. One ham and three gallons of water were all the provisions they were able to secure; and in this fashion they were set adrift on the wide sea. The master of the ship, with two gentlemen who were passengers, preferred to stick by the vessel while there was any part of her above water.
This, at least, was the story told us by the people we picked up.
The wind had been fair for the shore when the long-boat left the wreck, and though their ragged sail scarcely drove them along, their oars were only just sufficient to keep the boat's head the right way. Of course they made but slow progress; so that when they rose on the top of a swell, which was still very long and high in consequence of the gale, they could only just discover the distant land, Muckish, a remarkable flat-topped mountain on the northwest coast of Ireland, not very far from the promontory called the Bloody Foreland.
There appeared to have been little discipline among this forlorn crew, even when the breeze was in their favour; but when the wind chopped round, and blew off shore, they gave themselves up to despair, laid in their oars, let the sail flap to pieces, gobbled up all their provisions, and drank out their whole stock of water.
Meanwhile the boat, which had been partially stove, in the confusion of clearing the ship, began to fill with water; and, as they all admitted afterwards, if it had not been for the courage and patience of the women under this sharp trial, they must have gone to the bottom.
As it was both cold and rainy, the poor children, who were too young to understand the nature of their situation, or the inutility of complaining, incessantly cried out for water, and begged that more clothes might be wrapped round them. Even after they came to us the little things were still crying, "Oh! do give us some water"--words which long sounded in our ears. None of these women were by any means strong--on the contrary, one of them seemed to be very delicate; yet they managed to rouse the men to a sense of their duty by a mixture of reproaches and entreaties, combined with the example of that singular fortitude which often gives more than masculine vigour to female minds in seasons of danger. How long this might have lasted I cannot say; but probably the strength of the men, however stimulated, must have given way before night, especially as the wind freshened, and the boat was driving further to sea. Had it not been for the accident of the officer of the forenoon watch on board the _Endymion_ being unaware of the captain's intention to tack before dinner, these poor people, most probably, would all have perished.
The women, dripping wet, and scarcely capable of moving hand or foot, were lifted up the side, in a state almost of stupor; for they were confused by the hurry of the scene, and their fortitude had given way the moment all high motive to exertion was over. One of them, on reaching the quarterdeck, slipped through our hands, and falling on her knees, wept violently as she returned thanks for such a wonderful deliverance; but her thoughts were bewildered, and, fancying that her child was lost, she struck her hands together, and leaping again on her feet, screamed out, "Oh! where's my bairn--my wee bairn?"
At this instant a huge quarter-master, whose real name or nickname (I forget which) was Billy Magnus, appeared over the gangway hammocks, holding the missing urchin in his immense paw, where it squealed and twisted itself about, like Gulliver between the finger and thumb of the Brobdingnag farmer. The mother had just strength enough left to snatch her offspring from Billy, when she sank down flat on the deck, completely exhausted.
By means of a fine blazing fire, and plenty of hot tea, toast, and eggs, it was easy to remedy one class of these poor people's wants; but how to rig them out in dry clothes was a puzzle, till the captain bethought him of a resource which answered very well.
He sent to several of the officers for their dressing-gowns; and these, together with supplies from his own wardrobe, made capital gowns and petticoats--at least, till the more fitting drapery of the ladies was dried. The children were tumbled into bed in the same compartment, close to the fire; and it would have done any one's heart good to have witnessed the style in which the provisions vanished from the board, while the women wept, prayed, and laughed, by turns.
The rugged seamen, when taken out of the boat, showed none of these symptoms of emotion, but running instinctively to the scuttle-butt, asked eagerly for a drop of water. As the most expeditious method of feeding and dressing them, they were distributed among the different messes, one to each, as far as they went. Thus they were all soon provided with dry clothing, and with as much to eat as they could stow away; for the doctor, when consulted, said they had not fasted so long as to make it dangerous to give them as much food as they were disposed to swallow. With the exception of the ham devoured in the boat, and which, after all, was but a mouthful apiece, they had tasted nothing for more than thirty hours; so that, I suppose, better justice was never done to his Majesty's beef, pork, bread, and other good things, with which our fellows insisted on stuffing the newcomers, till they fairly cried out for mercy and begged to be allowed a little sleep.
Possibly some of us were more disposed to sympathise with the distress of these people when adrift in their open boat on the wide sea, from having ourselves, about a month before, been pretty much in the same predicament. It always adds, as any one knows, greatly to our consideration for the difficulties and dangers of others, to have recently felt some touch of similar distress in our own persons. This maxim, though it is familiar enough, makes so little impression on our ordinary thoughts, that when circumstances occur to fix our attention closely upon it we are apt to arrive as suddenly at the perception of its truth as if it were a new discovery.
REBECCA THE DRUMMER
By Charles Barnard
It was about nine o'clock in the morning when the ship first appeared.
At once there was the greatest excitement in the village. It was a British warship. What would she do? Would she tack about in the bay to pick up stray coasters as prizes, or would she land soldiers to burn the town? In either case there would be trouble enough.