Charles James Lever.

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Darcy looked up and beheld a young officer, who stood
respectfully before him ; and though for a second or so he
could not remember where he was, the memory soon
came back, and without a word he followed his con-

The officer led the way across a dirty, ill-paved court-
yard, and entered a building beyond it of greater size,
but apparently not less dilapidated than that they had
quitted. From the hall, which was lighted with a large
lamp, they could perceive through an open door a range
of stables filled with horses ; at the opposite side a door
corresponding with this one, at which a dragoon stood
with his carbine on his arm. At a word from the officer
the soldier moved aside and permitted them to enter.

The room into which they proceeded was large, but
almost destitute of furniture. A common deal table stood
in the middle, littered with military cloaks, swords, and
chakos. In one corner was a screen, from behind which

U 2


the only light proceeded, and, with a gesture towards
this, the officer motioned Darcy to advance, while with
noiseless footsteps he himself withdrew.

Darcy moved forward, and soon came within the space
enclosed by the screen, and in front of an officer in a
plain uniform, who was busily engaged in writing. Maps,
returns, printed orders, and letters lay strewed about him,
and in the small brazier of burning wood beside him
might be seen the charred remains of a great heap of
papers. Darcy had full a minute to contemplate the
figure before him ere he was noticed. The Frenchman
was short and muscular, with a thick, bushy head of hair,
bald in the centre of the head. His features were full of
intelligence and quickness, but more unmistakably denoted
violence of temper, and the coarse nature of one not born
to his present rank, which seemed, at least, that of a field
officer. His hands were covered with rings, but their
shape and colour scarcely denoted that such ornaments
were native to them.

"Ha the English colonel sit down, sir," said he to
Darcy, pointing to a chair, without rising from his own.
Darcy seated himself with the easy composure of one
who felt that in any situation his birth and breeding
made him unexceptionable company.

" I wished to see you, sir. I have received orders,
that is," said he, speaking with the greatest rapidity and
a certain thickness of utterance very difficult to follow,
" to send for you here, and make certain inquiries, your
answers to which will entirely decide the conduct of the
Commander-in-Chief in your behalf. You are not aware,
perhaps, how completely you have put this in our
power ? "

" I suppose," said Darcy, smiling, " my condition as a
prisoner of war makes me subject to the usual hardships
of such a lot ; but I am not aware of anything, peculiar
to my case, that would warrant you in proposing even one
question which a gentleman and a British officer could
refuse to answer."

" There is exactly such an exception," replied the
Frenchman, hastily. " The proofs are very easy, and
nearer at hand than you think of."


" You have certainly excited my curiosity, sir," said the
Knight, with composure ; " you will excuse my saying
that the feeling is unalloyed by any fear."

"We shall see that presently," said the French officer,
rising and moving towards the door of an apartment
which Darcy had not noticed. " Auguste," cried he, " is
that report ready ? " The answer was not audible to the
Knight. But the officer resumed, " No matter ; it is
sufficient for our purpose." And hastily taking a
paper from the hands of a subaltern, he returned to his
place within the screen. "A gentleman so conver-
sant with our language, it would be absurd to suppose
ignorant of our institutions. Now, sir, to make a very
brief affair of this, you have, in contravention to a law
passed in the second year of the Republic, ventured to
apply opprobrious epithets to the forces of France ;
ridiculing the manner, bearing, and conduct of our troops,
and instituting comparisons between the free citizens of
a free state and the miserable minions of a degraded
monarchy. If a Frenchman, your accusation, trial, and
sentence would have probably been nigh accomplished
before this time. As a foreigner and a prisoner of
war "

" I conclude such remarks as I pleased to make were
perfectly open to me," added Darcy, finishing the sen-

"Then you admit the charge," said the Frenchman,
eagerly, as if he had succeeded in entrapping a confession.

" So far, sir, as the expressions of my poor judgment
on the effectiveness of your army, and its chances against
such a force as we have yonder, I am not only prepared
to avow, but if you think the remarks worth the trouble
of hearing, to repeat them."

" As a prisoner of war, sir, according to the eighty-
fourth article of the Code Militaire, the offence must be
tried by a court-martial, one-half of whose members shall
have the same rank as the accused."

"I ask nothing better, sir, nor will I ever believe that
any man who has carried a sword could deem the careless
comments of a prisoner on what he sees around him a
question of crime and punishment."


"I would advise you to reflect a little, sir, ere you
suffer matters to proceed so far. The witnesses against

" The witnesses ! " exclaimed the Knight, in amaze-

" Yes, sir, four dragoons of a German regiment,
thoroughly conversant with your language and ours,
have deposed to the words "

" I avow everything I have spoken, and am ready to
abide by it."

" Take care, sir take care."

" Pardon me, sir," said Darcy, with a look of quiet irony,
" but it strikes me that the exigencies of your army must
be far greater than I deemed them, or you had never had
recourse to a system of attempted intimidation."

" You are in error there," said the Frenchman. " It
was the desire to serve, not to injure you, suggested my
present course. It remains with yourself to show that
my interest was not misplaced."

" Let me understand you more clearly. What is ex-
pected of me?"

" The answers to questions, which doubtless every
countryman of yours and mine could reply to from the
public papers, but which, to us here, remote from inter-
course and knowledge, are matters of slow acquirement."
While the French officer spoke he continued to search
among the papers before him for some document, and at
length, taking up a small slip of paper,. resumed : " For
instance, the Moniteur asserts that you meditate sending
a force from India to cross the Red Sea and the Desert,
and menace us by an attack in the rear as well as in the
front. This reads so like a fragment of an Oriental
tale, that I can forgive the smile with which you hear it."

" Nay, sir ; you have misintei'preted my meaning," said
the Knight, calmly. " I am free to confess I thought this
intelligence was no secret. The form of our Government,
the public discussions of our Houses, the freedom of our
Press, are little favourable to mystery. If you haye
nothing to ask of me more difficult to answer than

" And the expedition of Acre is this also correct ? "


" Perfectly so. A combined movement, which shall
compel you to evacuate the country, is in prepara-

" Parbleu ! sir," said the Frenchman, stamping his foot
with impatience, " these are somewhat bold words for a
man in your situation to one in mine."

" I fancy, sir, that circumstance affects the issue I
allude to very slightly indeed : even though the officer to
whom I address myself should be General Menou, the

"And if I be, sir, and if you know it," said Menou
for it was he his face suffused with anger, " is it con-
sistent with the respect due to my position, and to gour
own safety, to speak thus ? "

" For the first, sir, although a mere surmise on my
part, I humbly hope I have made no transgression ; for
the last, I have very little reason to feel any solicitude,
knowing that if you hurt a hair of my head, a heavy
reprisal will await such of your own officers as may be
taken, and the events of yesterday may have told you
that a contingency of this sort is neither improbable nor

Menou made no answer to this threatening speech, but
with folded arms paced the apartment for several minutes.
At length he turned hastily round, and fixing his eyes on,
the Knight, said, with a rude oath, " You are a fortunate
man, sir, that you did not hold this language to my pre-
decessor in the command. General Kleber would have
had you in front of a peloton of grenadiers within five
minutes after you uttered it."

" I have heard as much," said the Knight, with a slight

Menou rang a bell which stood beside him, and an
aide-de-camp entered.

" Captain le Messurier," said he, in the ordinary tone
of discipline, " this officer is under arrest. You will
take the necessary steps for his safe keeping, and his due
appearance when summoned before a military tribunal."

He bowed to Darcy as he spoke, and, reseating him-
self at the table, took up his pen to write

" At the hazard of being thought very hardy, sir," said


the Knight, as he moved towards the door, " I would
humbly solicit a favour."

" A favour ! " exclaimed Menou, staring in surprise.

" Yes, sir ; it is that the services of a surgeon should
be promptly rendered "

*' I have given orders on that score already. My own
medical man shall attend to you."

" I speak not of myself, sir. It is of a volunteer of my
corps, a young man who now lies badly wounded ; his
case is not without hope, if speedily looked to."

" He must take his chance with others," said the
general, gruffly, while he made a gesture of leave-taking;
and Darcy, unable to prolong the interview, retired.

" I am sorry, sir," said the aide-de-camp, as he went
along, " that my orders are peremptory, and you must, if
the state of your health permit, at once leave this."

" Is it thus your prisoners of war are treated, sir ? "
said Darcy, scornfully, " or am I to hope for hope I do
that the exception is created especially for me ? "

The officer was silent, and although the flush of shame
was on his cheek, the severe demands of duty overcame
all personal feeling, and he did not dare to answer.

The Knight was not one of those on whom misfortune
can press, without eliciting in return the force of resist-
ance, and, if not forgetting, at least combating, the
indignities to which he had been subjected ; he resigned
himself patiently to his destiny, and after a brief delay,
set forth for his journey to Akrish, which he now learned
was to be the place of his confinement.




THE interests of our story do not require us to dwell
minutely on the miserable system of intrigue by which
the French authorities sought to compromise the life and
honour of a British officer. The Knight of Gwynne was
committed to the charge of a veteran officer of the Repub-
lic, who, though dignified with the title of the Governor
of Akrish, was, in reality, invested with no higher func-
tions than that of gaoler over the few unhappy prisoners
whom evil destiny had thrown into French hands.

By an alternate system of cruelty and concession,
efforts were daily made to entrap Darcy either into some
expression of violence or impatience at this outrage on
all the custom of war, or induce him to join a plot for
escape, submitted to him by those who, apparently pri-
soners like himself, were in reality the spies of the Re-
public. Sustained by a high sense of his own dignity,
and not ignorant of the character nnder which revolu-
tionized France accomplished her triumphs, the Knight
resisted every temptation, and in all the gloom of this
remote fortress ominously secluded from the world
denied access to any knowledge of passing events cut
off from all communication with his country and his
comrades he never even for a moment forgot himself,
nor became entangled in the perfidious schemes spread
for his ruin. It was no common aggravation of the
miseries of imprisonment to know that each day and
hour had its own separate machinery of perfidy at work.
At one moment, he would be offered liberty on the condi-
tion of revealing the plans of the expedition ; at another, he
would be suddenly summoned to appear before a tribunal


of military law, when it was hinted he would be arraigned
for having commanded a force of liberated felons for in
this way were the volunteers once designated in the
hope that the insult would evoke some burst of passionate
indignation. If the torment of these unceasing annoy-
ances preyed upon his health and spirits, already harassed
by sad thoughts of home, the length of time to which the
intrigues were protracted showed Darcy that the wiles of
his enemies had not met success in their own eyes, and
this gleam of hope, faint and slender as it was, sustained
him through many a gloomy hour of captivity.

While the Knight continued thus to live in the long
sleep of a prisoner's existence, events were hastening to
their accomplishment by which his future liberty was to
be secured. The victorious army of Abercrombie had
already advanced and driven the French back beneath
the lines of Alexandria. The action which ensued was
terribly contested, but ended in the complete triumph of
the British, whose glory was, however, dearly bought by
the death of their gallant leader.

The Turkish forces now joined the English under
General Hutchinson, and a series of combined move-
ments commenced, by which the French saw themselves
so closely hemmed in, that no course was open save a
reti'eat upon Cairo.

Whether from the changed fortune of their arms for
the French had now sustained one unbroken series of
reverses or that the efforts to entrap the Knight had
shown so little prospect of success, the manner of the
governor had, for some time back, been altered much in
his favour, and several petty concessions were permitted,
which, in the earlier days of his captivity, were strictly
denied. Occasionally, too, little hints of the campaign
would be dropped, and acknowledgments made, " that
fortune had not been as uniformly favourable to the
' Great Nation' as was her wont." These significant
confessions received a striking confirmation, when, at
daybreak one morning, an order arrived for the garrison
to abandon the Fort of Akrish, and for the prisoners,
under a strong escort, to fall back upon Damanhour.

The movements indicated haste and precipitancy; so


much so, indeed, that ere the small garrison had got clear
of the town, the head of a retreating column was seen
entering it by the road from Alexandria ; and now no
longer doubt remained that the British had compelled
them to fall back.

As the French retired, their forces continued to come
up each day, and in the long convoy of wounded, as well
as in the shattered condition of gun-carriages and wag-
gons, it was easy to read the signs of a recent defeat.
Nor was the matter long doubtful to Darcy, for by some
strange anomaly of human nature, the very men who
would exaggerate the smallest accident of advantage into
a victory and triumph, were now just as loud in proclaim-
ing that they had been dreadfully beaten. Perhaps the
avowal was compensated for by the license it suggested to
inveigh against the generals, and in the true spirit of a
republican army, to threaten them openly with the speedy
judgments of the Home Government.

Among those who occasionally halted to exchange a few
words of greeting with the officer in conduct of the
prisoners, the Knight recognized with satisfaction the
same officer who, in the retreat from Aboukir, had so
kindly suggested caution to him. At first he seemed
half fearful of addressing him, to speak his gratitude, lest
even so much might compromise the young captain in
the eyes of his countrymen. The hesitation was speedly
overcome, however, as the young Frenchman gaily saluted
him, and said,

" Ah, mon general, you had scarcely been here to-day
if you had but listened to my counsels. I told you that
the Republic, one and indivisible, did not admit criticism
of its troops."

" I scarcely believed you could shrink from such an
ordeal," said the Knight, smiling.

" Not in the Moniteur, perhaps," rejoined the French-
man, laughing. " Yours, however, had an excess of can-
dour, which if only listened to at your own head-quarters,
might have induced grave errors.

" I comprehend," interrupted Darcy, gaily catching up
the ironical humour of the other. " I comprehend, and
you would spare an enemy such an injurious illusion."


" Just so ; I wish your army had been equally generous,
\viih all my heart," added he, as coolly as before ; " here
we are in full retreat on Cairo."

" On Damanhour, you mean," said Darcy.

" Not a bit of it ; on Cairo, general. There's no need
of mincing the matter; we need fear no eavesdropper here.
Ah, by-the-bye, your German friends were retaken, and by
a detachment of their own regiment, too. We saw the
fellows shot the morning after the action."

"Now that you are kind enough to tell me what is
going forward, perhaps you could let me know something
of my poor comrades, whom you took prisoners on the
night of the 9th."

" Yes. They are with few exceptions dead of their
wounds, two men exchanged about a week since ; and
then, what strange fellows your countrymen are ! they
sent us back a major of brigade in exchange for a wounded
soldier, who, when he left our camp, did not seem to have
life enough to bring him across the lines ! "

" Did you eee him ? " asked Darcy, eagerly.

" Yes ; I commanded the escort. He was a young
fellow of scarcely more than four-and-t\venty, and must
have been good-looking, too."

"Of course you could not tell his name," said the
Knight, despondingly.

" No ; I heard it, however, but it has escaped me.
There was a curious story brought back about him by
our brigade-major, and one which, I assure you, furnished
many a hearty laugh at your land of noble privileges and
aristocratic forms.

" Pray let me hear it."

" Oh, I cannot tell you one half of it ; the finale in-
terested the major most, because it concerned himself, and
this he repeated to us at least a dozen times. It would
seem, then, that this youth a rare thing, I believe, in
your service was a man of birth, but, according to your
happy institutions, was a man of nothing more, for he
was a younger son. Is not that your law ? "

Darcy nodded, and the other resumed.

" Well, in some fit of spleen, at not been born a year
or two earlier, or for some love affair with one of your


blonde insensibles. or from weariness of your gloomy
climate, or from any other true British cause of despair,
our youth became a soldier. Parbleu ! your English
chivalry has its own queer notions, when it regards the
service as a last resource of the desperate ! No matter,
he enlisted, came out here, fought bravely, and was taken
prisoner in the very same attack with yourself; but, while
fortune dealt heavily with one hand, she was caressing
with the other, for, the same week she condemned him to
a French prison, she made him a peer of England, having
taken off the elder brother, an ambassador at some court,
I believe, by a fever. So goes the world. Good and ill-
luck battling against each, and one never getting upper-
most without the other recruiting strength for a victory
in turn."

" These are strange tidings, indeed," said the Knight,
musing, " and would interest me deeply, if I knew the

" That I am unfortunate enough to have forgotten," said
the Frenchman, carelessly ; " but I conclude he must be a
person of some importance, for we heard that the vessel
which was to sail with despatches was delayed several
hours in the bay, to take him back to England."

Although the whole recital contained many circum-
stances which the Knight attributed to French misrepre-
sentation of English habitudes, he was profoundly struck
by it, and dwelt fondly on the hope, that if the young
peer should have served under his command, he would
not neglect, on arriving in England, to inform his friends
of his safety.

These thoughts, mingling with others of his home, and
of his son Lionel, far away in a distant quarter of the
globe, filled his mind as he went, and made him ponder
deeply over the strange accidents of a life that, opening
with every promise, seemed about to close in sorrow
and uncertainty. Full of movement and interest as was
the scene around, he seldom bestowed on it even a pass-
ing glance ; it was an hour of gloomy reverie, and he
neither marked the long train of waggons with their
wounded, the broken and shattered gun-carriages, or the
miserable aspect of the cavalry, whose starved and galled


animals could scarcely crawl. The Knight's momentary
indifference was interpreted in a very different sense by
the officer who commanded the escort, and who seemed
to suspect that this apathy concealed a shrewd insight
into the real condition of the troops and the signs of dis-
tress and discomfiture so palpable on every side. As,
impressed with this conviction, he watched the old man
with prying curiosity, a smile, faint and fleeting enough,
once crossed Darcy's features. The Frenchman's face
flushed as he beheld it, and he quickly said,

" They are the same troops that landed at the Arabs'
Tower, and who carry such inscriptions on their standards
as these." He snatched a flag from the sergeant beside
him as he spoke, and pointed to the proud words em-
broidered there : " Le Passage de la Scrivia " " Le
Passage de 1'Isonzo " " Le Pont de Lodi." Then, in a
low, muttering voice, he added, "But Buonaparte was
with us then."

Had he spoken for hours, the confession of their dis-
content with their generals could not have been more
manifest, and a sudden gleam of hope shot through
Darcy's breast, to think his captivity might soon be over.

There was every reason to indulge in this pleasing
belief; disorganization had extended to every branch of
the service. An angry correspondence, in which even
personal chastisement was broadly hinted at, passed be-
tween the -two officers highest in command, and this not
secretly, but publicly known to the entire army. Pecula-
tion of the most gross and open kind was practised by the
commissaries, and as the troops became distressed by
want, they retaliated by daring breaches of discipline, so
that at every parade men stood out from the ranks, boldly
demanding their rations, and answering the orders of the
officers by insulting cries of " Bread ! bread ! "

All this while the British were advancing steadily, over-
coming each obstacle in turn, and with a force whose pri-
vations had made no inroad upon the strictest discipline ;
they felt confident of success. The few prisoners who
occasionally fell into the hands of the French, wore all
the assurance of men who felt that their misfortunes
could not be lasting, and in good-humoured raillery ban-


tered their captors on the British beef and pudding they
would receive, instead of horseflesh, so soon as the capi-
tulation was signed.

The French soldiers were, indeed, heartily tired of the
war ; they were tired of the country, of the leaders,
whose incompetency, whether real or not, they believed ;
tired, above all, of absence from France, from which they
felt exiled. Each step they retired from the coast seemed
to them another day's journey from their native land, arid
they did not hesitate to avow to their prisoners that they
had no wish or care save to return to their country. ,

Such was the spirit of the French army as it drew near
Cairo, than which no greater contrast could exist than
that presented by the advancing enemy. Let us now
return to the more immediate interests of our story, and
while we beg to corroborate the brief narrative of the
French officer, we hope it is unnecessary to add that the
individual whose suddenly changed fortune had elevated
him from the ranks of a simple volunteer to that of a
peer of England was our old acquaintance Dick Forester.

From the moment when the tidings reached him, to
that in which he lay, still suffering from his wounds, in
the richly-furnished chamber of a London hotel, the whole
train of events through which he had so lately passed
seemed like the incoherent fancies of a dream. The ex-

Online LibraryCharles James Lever[Charles Lever's novels (Volume 13) → online text (page 25 of 35)