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The Tyrolese greeted this exploit of their leaders with loud cheers;
but up from the Bavarians resounded the commands of the officers; a
whole volley crashed, the bullets whistled round the ears of Wallner
and Panzl, but none hit them; and hen the smoke cleared away, John
Panzl was seen to make a triumphant leap in the air, which he
accompanied with a shout of victory, while Anthony Wallner calmly
raised his rifle again. He fired, and the gunner at the third field-
piece fell dead.

"Now, boys, at them; we must take the cannon!" shouted Wallner,
jumping forward, and the Tyrolese followed him down the slope with
furious shouts.

"Forward, forward!" shouted the Lieutenant-Colonel in the valley to
his Bavarians; "forward! the cannon must not fall into the hands of
the peasants; we must defend them to the last man. Therefore,
forward at the double-quick!"

And the Bavarians rushed forward up the slope.

But the Tyrolese had already succeeded in shooting or knocking down
all the gunners, and taken possession of the cannon. While Anthony
Wallner, at the head of a furious detachment of his men, hastened to
meet the approaching Bavarians, and hurled death and destruction
into their ranks, John Panzl remained with the others to defend the
guns.

A furious hand-to-hand fight now arose; the Bavarians were repulsed
again and again by the Tyrolese, and the sharp-shooters, posted
behind the trees and rocks, assisted their fighting brethren with
their rifles, which, aimed steadily, never missed their man. But the
Bavarians. who were drawn up farther down in the valley, likewise
endeavored to assist their struggling comrades: but the bullets
which they fired up the hill frequently struck into the ranks of
their countrymen, and not into those of the Tyrolese. Often, on the
other hand, these bullets did not miss their aim, but carried wounds
and death into the midst of the insurgents. Whenever this occurred a
young woman was seen to rush amidst the deadliest shower of bullets
into the ranks of the fighting men, lift up the fallen brave, and
carry him in her strong arms out of the thickest of the fight to the
quiet spot on the edge of the forest, which a protruding rock
protected from the bullets of the enemy.

This young woman was Eliza Wallner. Behind the rock she had
established a sort of field hospital; a few women and girls had
assembled around her there, and taken upon themselves the sacred
care for the wounded, while two priests had joined them to
administer extreme unction to the dying. But Eliza Wallner had
reserved the most difficult and dangerous part of this work of love
for herself. She alone was courageous enough to plunge into the
thickest of the fight to remove the fallen brethren; she alone was
strong enough to carry them to the quiet asylum, and it was only the
joyous enthusiasm inspired by the consciousness of doing good that
imparted this strength to her. Her eyes were radiant, her cheeks
were flushed, and the face of the young girl, formerly so rosy and
serene, exhibited now the transparent paleness, and grave, proud
calmness which only great resolves and sublime moments impart to the
human countenance.

And the women followed her example with joyous zeal; they washed the
wounds of the brave Tyrolese with water fetched from the neighboring
spring, tore their handkerchiefs and dresses to make the necessary
bandages of them, and closed, with tears of devout compassion, the
eyes of those who gave up the ghost amid the blessings of the
priests.

From these pious works of charity the women were suddenly aroused by
the loud cheers of the Tyrolese. Eliza sprang forth from behind the
rock to see what was the matter. Renewed and still louder cheers
resounded, for the victory was gained. Anthony Wallner and his men
had attained their object. They had succeeded in hurling the three
field-pieces from the height into the Rienz, which was rolling along
far below in its rocky bed. The earth was shaking yet from the
terrific crash, and echo was resounding still with the thundering
noise with which the field-pieces had fallen into the Rienz, whose
waters had hurled their foaming spray into the air, and were rolling
now with an angry roar over the sunken cannon.

This exploit, which excited the transports of the Tyrolese, exerted
a contrary effect upon the Bavarians. They had lost their artillery,
and with it the means of blowing up the bridge; and now they stood
before the enemy uncovered and almost defenceless. In obedience to a
loud command uttered by Anthony Wallner, the Tyrolese returned
quickly into the forest, and, hidden behind trees and rocks, hit a
Bavarian with every bullet, while the Bavarians vainly fired at the
well-concealed enemy.

The commander of the Bavarians, Lieutenant-Colonel Wreden,
perceiving the danger and uselessness of a continuance of the
struggle, ordered his troops to retreat; and no sooner had the
Bavarians received this longed-for order, than they fell back at the
double-quick from the bridge and took the road to Sterzing.

This retreat of the enemy was greeted by the renewed cheers which
Eliza Wallner had heard; and, both laughing and weeping for joy, she
hastened to fold her father to her heart, and thank God that no
bullet had hit him.

Wallner embraced her tenderly, and imprinted a kiss on her forehead.

"You have behaved very bravely, Lizzie," he said; "I saw how you
carried our poor brethren out of the thickest of the fight. My heart
was proud of you, and I should not have wept to-day even though you
had fallen in the sacred service of the fatherland. But I thank God
that nothing has happened to you, and I beseech you, dearest Lizzie,
do not accompany us any farther. I now believe again in you, and I
know that you are a true daughter of the Tyrol, although you
unfortunately love a Bavarian. Therefore go home; for it is no
woman's work that is in store for us; we have a hard struggle before
us, and a great deal of blood will be shed before we have driven the
mean Bavarians and the accursed French from our beloved country."

"No, father, I shall stay with you," exclaimed Eliza, with eager
determination. "I am not able to sit at home and spin and pray when
my father is fighting for the country. Mother can attend alone to
our household affairs, and Schroepfel will assist her; but you
cannot attend alone to the hard work here, and I will help you,
dearest father. I will be the doctor and surgeon of your men until
you have found a better and more skilful physician. You must not
reject me, dearest father, for you would commit wrong against the
poor wounded who have no other assistance than what they receive at
my hands and at those of the women whom I beg and persuade to help
me."

"You are right, Lizzie; it would be wrong in me to send you home and
not permit you to assist and nurse the wounded," said her father,
gravely. "May God and the Holy Virgin help and protect you! I devote
you to the fatherland to which I devote myself."

He kissed her once more, and then turned to the Tyrolese, who,
encamped in groups on the edge of the forest, and reposing from the
struggle, were partaking of the bread and meat which they had
brought along in their haversacks.

"Brethren," exclaimed Anthony Wallner, in a powerful voice, "now let
us be up and doing! We must cut off the enemy's retreat to Sterzing.
We must also occupy the Muhlbach pass, as Andreas Hofer ordered us
to do in the Archduke John's name. The enemy has set out thither,
and if he gets before us through the gap of Brixen and reaches the
bridge of Laditch, we shall be unable to prevent him from passing
through the Muhlbach pass and marching to Sterzing. Hence, we are
not at liberty to repose now, but must advance rapidly. One
detachment of our men, commanded by my Lieutenant Panzl, will push
on quickly on the mountain-road to the Muhlbach pass. The rest of us
will follow you, but we must previously detain the enemy at the gap
of Brixen; and while we are doing duty, another detachment of our
men will go farther down to the bridge of Laditch and destroy it in
order to prevent the enemy from crossing the Eisach. Forward, my
friends! Forward to the gap of Brixen! We must roll down trees,
detach large fragments from the rocks, and hurl them down on the
enemy; we must fire at them from the heights with deadly certainty,
and every bullet must hit its man. Forward! forward! To the bridge
of Laditch!"

"Yes, yes!" exclaimed the Tyrolese, with enthusiastic courage.
"Forward to the bridge of Laditch!"


CHAPTER XV.

THE BRIDGE OF LADITCH.


Night had at length brought some repose to the exhausted Bavarians.
At no great distance from the gap of Brixen they had halted late in
the evening, and encamped on the bare ground in the valley below.
The green turf was their bed, a stone their pillow; nevertheless,
they had been able to enjoy a few hours of peaceful slumber, for
they were familiar with the habits of the Tyrolese; they knew that
they never undertook any thing, not even a hunting-excursion, in the
dead of night, and that they had nothing to fear from them until
sunrise.

But now the first streaks of dawn illuminated the sky; it was time,
therefore, to continue the march. Lieutenant-Colonel von Wreden rose
from the couch which the soldiers had prepared for him of moss and
branches, and reviewed, accompanied by his officers, his small
force, which began sullenly and silently to form in line. A cloud
darkened Wreden's face when, marching through the ranks, he counted
the number of his soldiers. He had arrived yesterday at the bridge
of St. Lawrence with nearly four hundred men; scarcely one-half of
them were left now; the other half lay slain at the bridge of St.
Lawrence, or, exhausted by the loss of blood and by the pains of
gaping wounds, had sunk down on the road and been unable to continue
the march.

"And these poor men will likewise be killed to-day unless speedy
succor comes," murmured the Lieutenant-Colonel to himself; "we are
all lost if the miserable rabble of peasants reach the gap of Brixen
before us. We are all lost, for we shall be entirely cut off from
our friends and surrounded by our enemies, who are able to avail
themselves of their mountain fastnesses and hiding-places, while we
must march through the valley and across the open plain. But all
these complaints are useless. We must do our duty! The soldier's
life belongs to his oath and his king; and if he falls in the
service, he has done his duty."

And with strong determination and bold courage the lieutenant-
colonel threw back his head, and fixed his eye steadfastly on his
soldiers.

"Forward," he shouted, "forward, boys! Forward against these
miserable peasants, who have violated the faith they plighted to our
king. Forward! forward!"

The column, headed by Lieutenant-Colonel von Wreden, commenced
moving. His eyes glanced anxiously over the plain now opening before
them. Suddenly they are riveted on a point yonder on the mountain-
road leading southward to Italy. What is that? Does it not flash
there like a mass of bayonets? Does it not look as though a
brilliant serpent, glittering in blue, red, and gold, were moving
along the road? It draws nearer and nearer, and the Lieutenant-
Colonel is able to distinguish its parts. Yes, these parts are
soldiers; this serpent consists of regiments marching along in
serried ranks.

Lieutenant-Colonel von Wreden uttered a cry of joy and galloped
forward. Already he discerned distinctly the uniforms of the staff-
officers riding at the bead of the column. They were friends; they
were French soldiers headed by General Bisson.

Wreden galloped forward to salute the general and communicate to him
in brief, winged words his own disaster and his apprehensions
regarding the immediate future.

"Well, you have nothing to fear now," said General Bisson, with a
pleasant and proud smile. "It was no accident, but a decree of Fate,
that caused us to meet here. I was ordered by my emperor to march
with a column of four thousand men from Mantua to Ratisbon, and I am
now on the road to the latter place. Hence, our route leads us
through the gap of Brixen, and as a matter of course you will join
us with your troops. I hope our united forces will succeed in
routing these miserable peasants!"

"Yes, if we could meet them in the open plain," sighed Lieutenant-
Colonel von Wreden. "But in their mountains and gorges our thousands
will vainly struggle against their hundreds. The bulwarks of their
mountains protect them."

"We shall drive them from these bulwarks." said General Bisson,
haughtily. "But I believe the rabble will not even wait for this,
but take to their heels as soon as they see the head of my column.
Therefore, join my regiments, lieutenant-colonel, and let us march
fearlessly through the gap of Brixen."

Half an hour afterward they had reached the dark and awe-inspiring
gap of Brixen; and the united Bavarian and French troops marched
with a measured step along the narrow road, on both sides of which
rose steep gray rocks, covered here and there with small pine
forests, and then again exhibiting their naked, moss-grown walls,
crowned above with their snowy summits glistening like burnished
silver in the morning sun.

The column under General Bisson penetrated deeper and deeper into
the gorge. Enormous rocks now closed the road in their front and
rear. A profound, awful stillness surrounded them; only here and
there they heard the rustling of a cascade falling down from the
mountains with silvery spray, and flowing finally as a murmuring
rivulet through the valley; now and then they heard also the hoarse
croaking of some bird of prey soaring in the air, otherwise, all was
still.

General Bisson, who was riding in the middle of his column, turned
smilingly to Lieutenant-Colonel Wreden "Did I not tell you, my dear
Lieutenant-Colonel ," he said, "that these miserable peasants would
take to their heels so soon as our column came in sight? They were,
perhaps, able to cope with your few hundred men, but my four
thousand men - "

The loud crash of a rifle interrupted his sentence; a second, third,
and fourth report followed in rapid succession. The heights seemed
all at once to bristle with enemies. Like an enormous man-of-war,
lying at first calm and peaceful, and then opening her port-holes,
these gray rocks seemed suddenly to open all their port-holes and
pour out death and destruction.

From the rock in front yonder, from the steep mountains on both
sides, from the precipitous hill jutting out in their rear and
closing the gloomy gorge, rifle shots rattled down with unerring
aim; every bullet hit its man, every bullet struck down a soldier in
the ranks of the Bavarians and French; then were heard the
triumphant cheers of the Tyrolese, who, for a moment, stepped forth
from their safe hiding-places, danced on the rocks, jeered at the
enemy with loud, scornful words, and disappeared again so quickly,
that the bullets which the soldiers fired at them glanced harmlessly
from the flanks of the rocks.

But the Tyrolese fought not with their rifles alone against the
enemy marching through the deep and awful gorge. Nature had prepared
other means of defence for them; it had given them trees and rocks.
They hurled the trees, which the storms had felled years ago, and
which fragments of rock had held on the brink of the precipice, into
the depth of the gorge; they detached large fragments from the
rocks, and rolled them down on the soldiers, many of whom were
crushed by these terrible missiles. And when these trees and rocks
fell into the depth, and spread death and confusion in the ranks of
the soldiers, the Tyrolese profited by this moment to aim and strike
down additional victims by their rifle-bullets.

And there was no escape for these poor soldiers, who, exposed to the
fury of their enemies, did not even enjoy the consolation of
wreaking vengeance upon them. In silent despair, and shedding tears
of rage, the French and Bavarians continued their march; the corpses
of their brethren, which the rear-guard met on the horrible road,
could not detain them; they bad to pass over them, and abstain even
from coming to the assistance of their dying friends; crushed under
their feet, the latter had to give up the ghost.

At length the gorge widens before them; the rocks in front recede on
both sides, and a bright, expansive plain opens to their view. The
soldiers greet this prospect with loud cheers of delight, which
their officers dare not repress in the name of discipline; for, on
emerging from an open grave, a soldier feels like a human being, and
thanks God for the preservation of his life. Hundreds had fallen,
but several thousands were left, and their ardent rage, their fiery
revengefulness longed for the struggle in which they might avenge
their fallen comrades. And Fate seemed intent on fulfilling their
wishes. Yonder, at the extremity of the plain through which the
soldiers were now marching; yonder, on the bank of the Eisach, was
seen a motley crowd ascending the slopes of the mountains on both
sides of the river.

"Yes, there are the Tyrolese, there are our enemies," cried the
Bavarians and French, with grim satisfaction; and they marched at
the double-quick toward the bank of the river.

"The peasants, I believe, intend to prevent us from crossing the
river," said General Bisson, with a contemptuous shrug. "They have
taken position in front of the bridge of Laditch, and so closely
that I can see nothing of it," replied Lieutenant-Colonel von
Wreden. Suddenly he uttered a cry of surprise, and looked
steadfastly toward the extremity of the valley, where the rocks
jutted out again into it, and where the furious Eisach makes a
sudden bend from one side of the valley to the other. Formerly there
had risen here, between tremendous rocks, the majestic arch of the
bridge of Laditch. For many centuries past this wonderful arch had
spanned the abyss; it was a monument dating from the era of the
ancient Romans, and Caesar himself, perhaps, had crossed this bridge
on his march against the free nations of the North. But now this
arch had disappeared, or rather its central part had been removed,
and between its two extremities yawned a terrible abyss, through
which the Eisach rushed with thundering noise.

"The Tyrolese have destroyed the bridge!" exclaimed Von Wreden, in
dismay.

"Ah, the brigands!" said Bisson, contemptuously. "It will,
therefore, be necessary for us to construct a temporary bridge in
order to get over to the other side."

Yes, the Tyrolese had destroyed the bridge of Laditch; and while a
small division of their men had quickly moved on to occupy the
Muhlbach pass, the others, under the command of Anthony Wallner, had
taken position on the opposite bank of the Eisach, in order to
prevent the enemy from crossing the river. All the men from the
neighboring village of Laditch had joined the forces of Anthony
Wallner, and on the mountains stood the sharpshooters from the
villages far and near, called out by the tocsin, and ready to
dispute every inch of the beloved soil with the enemy.

The columns of the Bavarians and French approached, and shots were
exchanged on both sides. "Forward!" shouted Anthony Wallner, and he
advanced with his brave men to the Puster valley, close to the
bridge upon which the enemy was moving up.

The bullets whistled around him, but he paid no attention to them;
he saw only the enemy, and not the dangers menacing him. But the
other Tyrolese saw them only too well. Up in the mountains they were
brave and resolute; but in the plain, where they were on equal
ground with the enemy they felt ill at ease and anxious. Moreover,
the odds of the enemy were truly formidable, not only in numbers but
also in arms. Only a part of the Tyrolese were provided with rifles
and muskets; more than half of them were armed only with flails,
pitchforks, and clubs. The soldiers had not only their muskets, but
also field-pieces, whose balls thundered now across the plain and
carried death into the ranks of the Tyrolese.

Terror and dismay seized the sharpshooters; they turned and began to
flee into the mountains. But an unexpected obstacle obstructed their
path. A number of intrepid women, who had flocked to the scene from
the neighboring villages, met them at this moment. They received the
fugitives with threatening invectives; they drove them back with
uplifted arms, with flaming eyes, with imprecations, and scornful
laughter, down the slope, regardless of the bullets whistling around
them, and of the enemy moving up closer and closer to them. The
fugitives are obliged to turn and plunge once more into the
struggle, which becomes more and more furious. Yonder, close to the
fragments of the bridge, stand the Tyrolese; here, near the
fragments on this side of the river, are the soldiers and the French
engineers advancing to construct a temporary bridge across the
chasm, and thereby unite again the disrupted ends of the ancient
Roman structure.

The fire of the Tyrolese becomes weaker; loud lamentations burst
from their ranks. They are exhausted and weary, owing to the heavy
exertions of the day; hunger and thirst torment them, and their
strength is gone.

"Give us something to eat! Give us something to drink!" they shout
to the women occupying the mountain-path in their rear up to the
solitary house, the inn Zur Eisach, which has already been hit by
many a ball from the enemy's guns.

"Courage, brethren, courage!" shouted Eliza Wallner. "I will bring
you refreshments."

And, like a gazelle, she hastens up the hillside, skipping from rock
to rock until she reaches the battered house. The bullets whistle
around her, but she laughs at them, and does not even turn to
vouchsafe a glance at the danger. She leaps on courageously; now she
reaches the house, she disappears through the door, and no sooner
has she entered than a cannonball strikes the wall right above the
door. After a very brief space of time, Eliza Wallner reappears in
the door. On her head she carries a keg, which she supports with
both her uplifted arms. With a serene glance, with rosy cheeks and
smiling lips, a charming picture of grace, loveliness, and
courageous innocence, she descends the mountain-path again, and even
the bullets of the enemy respect her; they whistle past her on both
sides, but do not hit her. Eliza hastens down the slope, and now she
reaches the bridge, and arrives where are posted the Tyrolese, who
receive the courageous girl with deafening cheers.

All at once she feels a jerk in the keg on her head, and immediately
after its contents pour in a clear cold stream down on her face and
neck. A bullet had struck the keg and passed clear through it. Eliza
bursts into merry laughter, lifts the keg with her plump, beautiful
arms from her head, and stops the two holes with both her hands, so
that the wine can no longer run out.

"Now come, boys," she shouts, in a loud, merry voice; "come and
drink, else the wine will run out. The enemy has tapped the keg; he
wished to save us the trouble. Come and drink."

"Stand back, Lizzie," shouts Panzl to her; "step behind the rock
yonder, that the bullets may not hit you."

"I shall not do it," said Eliza, with a flushed face; "I shall not
conceal myself. I am a true daughter of the Tyrol, and God will
protect me here as well as there. - Come, boys, and drink. Bring your
glasses, or rather apply your mouth to the keg and drink."

Two young Tyrolese sharpshooters hastened to her. Eliza held up the
keg; the two young men knelt before her and applied their mouths to
the holes made by the bullet, and sucked out the wine, looking with
enamoured glances up to the heroic girl who looked down on them
smilingly.

"Now you have drunk enough, go and fight again for the fatherland,"
she said, and signed to two other sharpshooters to refresh
themselves from the keg. The two young men hastened back to their
comrades, not knowing whether it was the wine or the sight of the
lovely Tyrolese girl that filled them with renewed courage and
enthusiasm.

The two other Tyrolese had drunk likewise. Suddenly another bullet
whistles along and darts past close to Eliza's cheeks, causing her
to reel for a moment. A cry of dismay burst from the lips of those
who saw it; but Eliza already smiled again, and she exclaimed, in a
merry voice: "Make haste, boys! else another bullet will come and
pierce the keg again, when the wine will run into the grass.
Therefore, make haste!"

Two other Tyrolese hastened up to drink; then two more, and so on,



Online LibraryL. MühlbachAndreas Hofer → online text (page 14 of 43)