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at a glance.

**What do you think of the battle?'' asked Bonaparte.

" I think," said Desaix, '' that it is lost. But as it is
only three o'clock in the afternoon, we have time to win
another."

" Only," said a voice, *' we need cannon." The voice
Was that of Marmont, commander-in-chief of the artillery.

" You are right, Marmont ; but where are we going to
get any cannon 1 "

*^ There are five pieces which I can take from the battle-
field, and which are still intact ; and five others which we
left on the Scrivia, and which have just arrived."

"And eight pieces that I have brought with me,"
added Desaix.

" That makes eighteen," said Marmont ; ** and that is
all we need."

An aide-de-camp set off in haste to hurry the arrival of
Desaix's pieces. The reserve was still approaching, and
was not more tlian an eighth of a league away. The posi-
tion was all that could be desired. At the left of the road



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346 THE COMPANIONS OF JEHU.

rose a gigantic hedge, perpendicular to the road and pro-
tected by a slope. The infantry was stationed there' as it
arrived, and even the cavaky could rest there unseen be-
hind the huge curtain.

In the mean time Marmont had brought together his
eighteen pieces of cannon, and had put them up as a bat-
tery on the right front of the army. Suddenly they
burst forth, throwing upon the Austrians a deluge of shot.
There was a moment of hesitation in the ranks of the
enemy. Bonaparte profited by it to pass along the French
line.

" Comrades ! " he cried, "you have taken enough back-
ward steps ! Eemember, it is my habit to sleep upon the
field of battle ! "

At the same time, as if in reply to Marmont's cannon-
ade, the firing of the infantry burst forth on the left,
taking the Austrians on their flank. It was Desaix and
his division. The whole army understood that the re-
serves had come, and that they must help in making the
effort a supreme one. The word, " Forward ! " resounded
from the extreme left to the extreme right. The drums
beat the charge.

The Austrians, who had not seen the reinforcements
which had just arrived, and who, thinking the day their
own, were marching with their guns on their shoulders as
if at a promenade, felt that something strange was going
on in the French ranks, and made an effort to retain the
victory which they felt to be slipping from their hands.
But everywhere the French had resumed the offensive ;
everywhere the terrible charge-step and the victorious
Marseillaise were heard. Marmont's volcano vomited forth
fire; Kellermann dashed with his cuirassiers across the
two lines of the enemy ; Desaix leaped the ditches, burst
through the hedges, arrived upon a little eminence, and



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CONCLUSION. 347

fell dead just as he was turning to see if his division
were following him. But his death, instead of dimin-
ishing the ardor of his soldiers, redoubled it. They threw
themselves with levelled bayonets upon General Zach's
column. Just then Kellermann, who had crossed the
enemy's lines, saw Desaix's division engaged with a com-
pact and motionless mass ; he charged it in the rear, made
an opening in it, broke and routed it in less than a quarter
of an hour. The five thousand Austrian grenadiers who
composed this mass were scattered and destroyed. They
disappeared like smoke. General Zach and his staff were
made prisoners. They were all tliat remained.

Then in their turn the enemy tried to make use of their
immense cavalry ; but the continual fire of musketry, the
devouring rain of shells, and the terrible bayonets stopped
them short. Murat manoeuvred upon their flanks with
two pieces of light artillery, and a howitzer which sent
death on all sides even while it was moving. For one
moment he stopped to help Roland and his nine hundred
men. One of his shells fell in the ranks of the Austrians
and burst there.

An opening was made, like a gulf of flames ; Eoland
threw himself into it, a pistol in one hand and a sword
in the other. The whole consular guard followed him,
opening the Austrian ranks as a wedge splits the trunk of
an oak. He penetrated as far as a broken artillery- wagon
which the enemy surrounded ; he put his hand into the
opening of the cannon and fired his pistol. A frightful
report followed ; a volcano opened and devoured all those
who surrounded it.

The army corps of General Elsnitz was now in full
flight. Then every one turned around, drew back, and
fled. The Austrian general tried in vain to put some
order into the retreat. The French army crossed in half



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348 THE COMPANIONS OF JEHU.

an hour a plain which it had defended step by step for
eight hours.

The enemy did not stop until they reached Marengo,
where they tried in vain to form again under the fire of
the artillerymen of Carra-Saint-Cyr, left at Castel Ceriolo
and found again at the end of the day. But the divisions
of Desaix, Gardanne, and Chamber! hac came up and pur-
sued the Austrians from street to street, Marengo was
taken ; the enemy retired upon Petra-Bona, which was
also taken. The Austrians hastened towards the bridge
over the Bormida, but Carra-Saint-Cyr got there first.
Then the multitude of flying soldiers started for the fords,
and threw ttiemselves into the Bormida beneath the fire
of the whole French army, which did not stop until ten
o'clock at night. The remains of the Austrian army
regained their camp at Alexandria. The French army
bivouacked near the bridge. The day had cost the Aus*
trians forty-five hundred dead, six thousand wounded, five
thousand prisoners, twelve flags, and thirty pieces of
cannon.

Never had fortune shown itself under two more oppo-
site aspects. At two o'clock in the afternoon it seemed
as if there was nothing for Bonaparte except defeat and
its disastrous consequences. At five o'clock Italy was re-
conquered with a single blow, and he saw the throne of
France in prospective.

That same evening the First Consul wrote the following
letter to Madame de Montrevel : —

Madame, — I have gained to-day my most glorious victory ;
but this victory has cost me the two halves of my heart, —
Desaix and Roland.

Do not weep, Madame. Your son has for a long time wished
to die, and he could not have died more gloriously.

Bonaparte.



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CONCLUSION. 349

They made a futile search for the body of the aide-
de-camp. Like Romulus, he bad disappeared in a tem-
pest. No one ever knew why he had pursued with so
much eagerness a death which he had had such diffi-
culty in finding.



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OF

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Online LibraryAlexandre DumasThe companions of Jehu → online text (page 24 of 24)