Excerpt from “Ninety-Three” by Victor Hugo ~~Charge!~~

picture-NinetyThree-Hugo_Vendee“Mass the whole column with arms loaded, and hold them ready for attack.”
He spoke a few words additional in Guéchamp’s ear.
“I understand,” said Guéchamp.
Gauvain continued: “Are all our drummers on hand?”
“Yes.”
“We have nine. Keep two, give me seven.”
The seven drummers ranged themselves silently before Gauvain.
Then Gauvain cried: “Battalion of Bonnet-Rouge!”
Twelve men, with a sergeant, left the main body of the troops.
“I ask for the whole battalion,” said Gauvain.
“Here we are!” replied the sergeant.
“Twelve of you!”
“There are twelve of us left.”
“Very good,” said Gauvain.
This sergeant was the rough, but kind-hearted, trooper Radoub, who had adopted in the name of the battalion the three children found in the woods of La Sandraie.
Only half a battalion, it will be remembered, had been exterminated at Herbe-en-Pail, and Radoub had the good luck not to form a part of it.
A forage wagon was near; Gauvain pointed it out to the sergeant.
“Sergeant, have your men make ropes of straw and twist them around their guns to prevent any sound if they knock against each other.”
In a moment’s time the order had been executed, in silence and darkness.
“It is done,” said the sergeant.
“Soldiers, take off your shoes,” added Gauvain.
“We haven’t any,” said the sergeant.
That made, with the seven drummers, nineteen men; Gauvain was the twentieth.
He cried, “Follow me in single file. The drummers behind me, the battalion next. Sergeant, you will command the battalion.”
He took the head of the column, and, while the cannonading continued on both sides, these twenty men, gliding along like ghosts, plunged into the deserted lanes.
They marched some time in this way, winding along by the houses. Everything seemed dead in the town; the citizens were crouching in the cellars. There was not a door which was not barred, not a blind which was not closed. No light anywhere.
The great street was making a furious din in the midst of this silence; the cannonading still continued; the Republican battery and the Royalist barricade were angrily spitting out all their volleys.
After twenty minutes of winding about, Gauvain, who led the way with certainty in the darkness, reached the end of a lane running into the principal street; only it was on the other side of the market.
The position was reversed. On this side there was no intrenchment,—such is the everlasting imprudence of those who build barricades,—the market was open and they could enter under the arches, where some baggage wagons were harnessed ready for departure. Gauvain and his nineteen men had before them the five thousand Vendéans, but they were behind the Vendéans’ backs and not in front of them.
Gauvain spoke in a low voice to the sergeant; they removed the straw from their guns; the twelve grenadiers stationed themselves in order of battle behind the corner of the lane, and the seven drummers held their drumsticks in readiness for orders.
The discharge of artillery was intermittent. Suddenly, in an interval between two reports, Gauvain raised his sword, and, in a voice which sounded like a trumpet in the silence, cried out,—
“Two hundred men to the right, two hundred men to the left, the rest in the centre!”
The twelve guns fired, the seven drums beat the charge.
And Gauvain uttered the terrible cry of the Blues,—
“Charge bayonets!”
The effect was wonderful.
This entire mass of peasants felt that they were surprised from the rear, and imagined that there was a new army behind them. At the same time, the column holding the head of the street and commanded by Guéchamp, hearing the drums, moved forward, beating the charge in return, and rushed in double-quick time on the barricade; the peasants saw that they were between two fires.
A panic exaggerates everything; in a panic, a pistol shot makes as much noise as a cannon, and sounds are magnified by the imagination, and the baying of a hound seems like the roar of a lion. We may add that the peasant takes fear as the thatch takes fire, and peasant’s fear increases to defeat, as easily as the burning thatch grows to a conflagration. Their flight was beyond description.

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1 Comment

Filed under Fiction, Literature

One response to “Excerpt from “Ninety-Three” by Victor Hugo ~~Charge!~~

  1. Victor Hugo was born in Besançon, France on 26 February 1802, and died in Paris on 22 May 1885, aged 83 years. ‘Ninety-Three’ was published in 1874.

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