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One of the 28th - a Tale of Waterloo

CHAPTER XV.

IN BELGIUM.

There was a general feeling of depression in the regiment when it was known that the transports had arrived in harbor. As a rule regiments embarking for service abroad start in high spirits, and whatever private regrets are felt at parting from friends, the troops march gayly down to the point of embarkation. But this was not the case as the Twenty-eighth with the band at its head playing "The girl I left behind me," passed through the streets of Cork on its march down to the spot ten miles away where the transports were lying. There was not one from the colonel down to the youngest drummer-boy but felt that he had been deprived of the chance of taking part in a stirring campaign, and that he was going into a sort of exile. The baggage had been sent on the previous day, and the regiment on arriving at the harbor was speedily transferred in large lighters to the two transports.

"They are two fine ships, anyhow," Captain O'Connor said to Ralph as the barge carrying his company approached the side of one of them. "Rather different craft to that in which we made our last voyage together. We shall have comfortable quarters on board her, and ought to make a pleasant passage if we have but decent weather."

"Yes, if anything could make our voyage pleasant under the circumstances," Ralph replied dismally.

"Oh, it's no use thinking any more about that," O'Connor said cheerfully. "We must make the best of matters, and hope that we shall soon be on our way back again; if not, I dare say we shall have a pleasant time in Canada. With your knowledge of French, Conway, you will make a great hit among the fair Canadians."

"I didn't think of that," Ralph laughed. "Yes, the prospect is a cheering one. I promise you, O'Connor, that I will do the best I can for you. Well, here we are alongside."

"Good afternoon, captain. When are we going to sail?" O'Connor asked the master of the vessel as he stepped on deck.

"You must ask the clerk of the weather," the skipper replied. "At present there is not a breath of wind stirring, and from the look of the sky I see no chance of a change at present."

Day after day passed, and still the vessels remained at anchor. Not a breath of wind stirred the water, and the troops had nothing to do but to lounge idly about the decks and whistle for a breeze. Whenever a vessel came in from England boats were lowered and rowed alongside to get the latest news. This was little enough. It was, however, known that all the powers had determined to refuse to recognize Napoleon as Emperor of France, and that a great coalition against him was being arranged. There were rumors that Belgium was likely to be the scene of operations.

Already, by the terms of the late treaty, several English regiments were stationed on the Belgian frontier, and three or four more were already under orders to embark for that country. It was reported that Russia, Austria, and Prussia were taking steps to arm. The militia had been called out at home, and high bounties were offered for volunteers from these regiments into the line. Recruiting was going on vigorously all over the country. Horses were being bought up, and efforts made to place the attenuated regiments on a war footing. All this was tantalizing news to the Twenty-eighth. The colonel was known to have written to influential friends in London, begging them to urge upon the authorities the folly of allowing a fine regiment like his to leave the country at such a moment. But little was hoped from this, for at any moment a change in the weather might place them beyond the possibility of a recall.

Three weeks passed and then the barometer fell, and there were signs of a change. There was bustle and movement on board the ships, and even the soldiers were glad that the monotony of their imprisonment on board was about to come to an end, and their voyage to commence. The sails were loosed from their gaskets, and the sounds of the drum and fifes struck up as the capstans were manned, the soldiers lending a hand at the bars, and the chains came clanking in at the hawse-holes.

"There is a vessel coming in round the point," O'Connor said. "But we shall hardly get the last news; we shall be under way before she anchors."

"She is signaling to the fort on the hill," Ralph said, as he watched the flags run up on the signal-staff on the summit of Spike Island; "and they are answering down below there at the station in front of the commandant's house."

A moment later a gun was fired.

"That's to call our attention, I think," the skipper said, taking up his glass and directing it to the shore. "Yes, there is our number flying. Get the signal-book, boy. Mr. Smith, run up the answering pennant."

As soon as this ascended the flags on shore were lowered, and a fresh set run up—3. 5. 0. 4.

"Give me the book. 'The vessels are not to sail until further orders,'" he read aloud.

"Hooray, lads!" Captain O'Connor shouted at the top of his voice. "We are stopped until further orders."

A loud cheer broke from the troops, which was echoed by a roar from the other vessel; and for a few minutes the greatest excitement reigned. The men threw their caps into the air, and shouted until they were hoarse. The officers shook each other by the hand, and all were frantic with delight at the narrow escape they had had.

As soon as the brig had dropped anchor boats rowed off to her, but nothing further was learned. Just as she was leaving Plymouth an officer had come on board with dispatches, and instructions to the captain to signal immediately he arrived at Cork that if the Twenty-eighth had not already sailed they were to be stopped. Owing to the lightness of the wind the brig had been eight days on her passage from Plymouth.

For another fortnight the regiment remained on board ship. The imprisonment was borne more patiently, now they felt sure that they were not at any rate to be sent across the Atlantic. Then a vessel arrived with orders that the Twenty-eighth were at once to proceed to Ostend, and two hours afterward the transports set sail.

Belgium was hardly the spot which the troops in general would have approved of as the scene of operations, for the disastrous expedition to Walcheren was still fresh in mens' minds. They would, moreover, have preferred a campaign in which they would have fought without being compelled to act with a foreign army, and would have had all the honor and glory to themselves. Still Belgium recalled the triumphs of Marlborough, and although every mail brought news of the tremendous efforts Napoleon was making to reorganize the fighting power of France, and of the manner in which the veterans of his former wars had responded to the call, there was not a doubt of success in the minds of the Twenty-eighth, from the colonel down to the youngest drummer-boy.

Ralph was sorry that he had not been able to pay a flying visit to his mother before his departure on active and dangerous service.

He had been somewhat puzzled by her letters ever since he had been away. They had been almost entirely devoted to his doings, and had said very little about herself beyond the fact that she was in excellent health. She had answered his questions as to his various friends and acquaintances in Dover; but these references had been short, and she had said nothing about the details of her daily life, the visits she paid, and the coming in of old friends to see her. She had evidently been staying a good deal, he thought, with the Withers, and she kept him fully informed about them, although she did not mention when she went there or when she had returned.

She frequently spoke about the missing will, and of her hopes it would some day be recovered; and had mentioned that the search for it was still being maintained, and that she felt confident that sooner or later it would come to light. But even as to this she gave him no specific details; and he felt that, even apart from his desire to see his mother, he should greatly enjoy a long talk with her, to find out about everything that had been going on during his absence.

Mrs. Conway had indeed abstained from giving her son the slightest inkling of the work upon which she was engaged; for she was sure he would be altogether opposed to her plan, and would be greatly disturbed and grieved at the thought of her being in any menial position. Whether if, when he returned, and she had not attained the object of her search she would let him know what she was doing she had not decided; but she was determined that at any rate until he came home on leave he should know nothing about it.

"So we are going to fight Bony at last, Mister Conway," Ralph's servant said to him. "We've never had that luck before. He has always sent his generals against us, but, by jabbers, he will find that he has not got Roosians and Proosians this time."

"It will be hot work, Denis; for we shall have the best troops of France against us, and Napoleon himself in command."

"It's little we care for the French, your honor. Didn't we meet them in Spain and bate them? Sure, they are are hardly worth counting."

"You will find them fight very much better now they have their emperor with them. You know, Wellington had all his work to beat them."

"Yes, but he did bate them, your honor."

"That's true enough, Denis; but his troops now are old soldiers, most of whom have been fighting for years, while a great part of our force will be no better than militia."

"They won't fight any the worse for that, your honor," Denis said confidently. "We will bate them whenever we meet them. You see if we don't."

"We will try anyhow, Denis; and if all the regiments were as good as our own I should feel very sure about it. I wish, though, we were going to fight by ourselves; we know what we can do, but we do not know how the Belgians and Dutch and Germans who will be with us can be depended upon."

"If I were the duke I wouldn't dipend on them at all, at all, your honor. I would just put them all in the rare, and lave our fellows to do the work. They are miserable, half-starved cratures all them foreigners, they tells me; and if a man is not fed, sure you can't expect him to fight. I couldn't do it myself. And I hope the duke ain't going to put us on short rations, because it would be murther entirely on the boys to make them fight with impty stomachs."

"I fancy we shall be all right as to that, Denis. I expect that we shall wait quiet till the French attack us, and waiting quiet means getting plenty of food."

"And dacent food, I hope, your honor; not the sort of thing they say them foreigners lives on. Denis Mulligan could live on frogs and snails as well as another, no doubt; but it would go sorely against me, your honor."

"I don't think there's much chance of your having to live on that Denis. You will get rations there just the same as you did in Spain."

"What! beef and mutton, your honor? I suppose they will bring them across from England?"

"They may bring some across, Denis; but I suppose they will be able to buy plenty for the supply of the army out there."

"What! have they got cattle and sheep there, your honor?" Denis asked incredulously.

"Of course they have, Denis; just the same as we have."

"The hathens!" Denis exclaimed. "To think that men who can get beef and mutton should feed upon such craturs as snails and such like. It's downright flying in the face of Providence, your honor."

"Nonsense, Denis; they eat beef and mutton just the same as we do. As to the frogs and snails, these are expensive luxuries, just as game is with us. There is nothing more nasty about snails after all than there is about oysters; and as to frogs they were regarded as great dainties by the Romans, who certainly knew what good eating was."

"Sure, I am a Roman myself, your honor—so are most of the men of the regiment—but I never heard tell of sich a thing."

"Not that sort of Roman, Denis," Ralph laughed. "The old Romans—people who lived long before there were any popes—a people who could fight as well as any that ever lived, and who were as fond of good living as they were of fighting."

"Well, your honor, there is no accounting for tastes. There was Bridget Maloney, whom I courted before I entered the regiment. Well, your honor, if you would believe it, she threw over a dacent boy like myself, and married a little omadoun of a man about five feet high, and with one shoulder higher than the other. That was why I took to soldiering, your honor. No, there is no accounting for tastes anyhow. There's the mess-bugle, your honor. Next time we hear it, it will be at say, and maybe there won't be many ready to attind to it."

Denis' prediction was verified. The vessel sailed at two o'clock in the afternoon, and by six was rolling heavily, and a brisk wind was blowing. The Twenty-eighth had not long before made the voyage from the south of France, but they had been favored by exceptionally fine weather, and had experienced nothing like the tossing they were now undergoing. The consequence was that only about half a dozen officers obeyed the bugle call to mess.

There was a general feeling of satisfaction when the low coast round Ostend was sighted, for the voyage throughout had been a rough one. Under certain circumstances a sea voyage is delightful, but confinement in a crowded transport in rough weather is the reverse of a pleasant experience. The space below decks was too small to accommodate the whole of the troops, and a third of their number had to be constantly on deck; and this for a ten days' voyage in a heavy sea, with occasional rain-showers, is not, under ordinary circumstances, calculated to raise the spirits of troops. But men bound on active and dangerous service are always in the highest spirits, and make light of disagreeables and hardships of all kinds.

They had expected to find Ostend full of troops, for several regiments had landed before them; but they soon found they were to be marched inland. As soon as the regiment had landed they marched to a spot where a standing camp had been erected for the use of troops on their passage through. Their baggage was at once sent forward, and the men had therefore nothing to do but to clean up their arms and accoutrements, and to wander as they pleased through the town. They started early next morning, and after two days' marching arrived at Ghent, where several regiments were quartered, either in the town itself or in the villages round it. Ralph's company had billets allotted to them in a village a mile from the town, a cottage being placed at the disposal of the captain and his two subalterns. The next morning, after the parade of the regiment was over, most of the officers and many of the men paid a visit to the town, where the fugitive King of France had now established his court.

Ralph, who years before had read the history of Ghent, was greatly interested in the quaint old town; though it was difficult to imagine from the appearance of its quiet streets that its inhabitants had once been the most turbulent in Europe. Here Von Artevelde was killed, and the streets often ran with the blood of contending factions. Was it possible that the fathers of these quiet workmen in blouses, armed with axes and pikes, had defeated the chivalry of France, and all but annihilated the force of the Duke of Anjou? What a number of convents there were! The monks seemed a full third of the population, and it was curious to hear everyone talking in French when the French were the enemy they were going to meet. The populace were quite as interested in their English visitors as the latter were with them. The English scarlet was altogether strange to them, and the dress of the men of the Highland regiment, who were encamped next to the Twenty-eighth, filled them with astonishment.

For a fortnight the regiment remained at Ghent, then they with some others of the same division marched to Brussels, and took up their quarters in villages round the town. The Twenty-eighth belonged to Picton's division, which formed part of the reserve concentrated round Brussels. The first army corps, consisting of the second and third divisions of Dutch and Belgians, and the first and third of the British, extended from Enghien on the right to Quatre Bras on the left. The first British division were at the former town, the third between Soignies and Rœulx, while the Belgians and Dutch lay between Nivelles and Quatre Bras.

The second army corps held the ground on the right of the first, and extended to Oudenarde on the Scheldt. The cavalry, with the exception of the Brunswick brigade, were posted at Grammont, Mons, and Rœulx, their outposts being thrown forward as far as Maubeuge and Beaumont. The Prussians were on the left of Wellington's force, and extended from Ligny through Namur toward Liege, their advanced posts being at Charleroi, where Zieten's division had their headquarters. But although the allied armies thus formed together the arc of a large circle covering Brussels, they were entirely distinct. The British drew their supplies from Ostend, on the right of their position, while Liege on the extreme left was the base of the Prussians.

Napoleon's movements were uncertain. He might either advance upon Namur and cut off the Prussians from their base, or between Grammont and Oudenarde, by which measure he would similarly cut the British off from Ostend; or he might advance from Charleroi direct upon Brussels, breaking through at the point where Wellington's left joined the Prussian right. The Duke of Wellington believed that he would attempt the second of these alternatives, as in that case he would fall upon the British before the Prussians could come up to their assistance, and if successful would not only cut them off from the base of supplies, but would be able to march straight upon Brussels. It was to defeat this plan that the duke posted the largest proportion of his British troops along the frontier, holding, however, two British divisions and the Brunswick and Nassau troops in and round Brussels, where they were nearly equidistant from any point that could be attacked, and could be moved forward as soon as the enemy's intentions became manifest.

By the time that the whole of the forces were assembled Wellington had ninety thousand men under his orders; Blucher, the Prussian general, had one hundred and sixteen thousand; while Napoleon had one hundred and twenty-five thousand with which to encounter this vastly superior force. Upon the other hand, Napoleon's were all veteran troops, and the French had for a long time been accustomed to victory over the Prussians. Of Wellington's force fully a half were of mixed nationalities: Belgians, Dutch, Brunswickers, and Hessians; while his British division consisted chiefly of young troops, so hastily raised that a great number of them absolutely fought at Waterloo in the uniforms of the militia regiments from which they had been drafted.

It seemed, however, a well-nigh desperate enterprise for Napoleon to attack so greatly superior a force. But he had, in fact, no choice but to do so; for Russia and Austria were arming, and their forces would soon be advancing upon France, and it was therefore necessary if possible to defeat the British and Prussians before they could arrive. Could he succeed in doing this the enthusiasm that would be excited in France would enable him vastly to increase his army. In the meantime his confidence in his own military genius was unbounded, and the history of his past was contained many triumphs won under circumstances far less favorable than the present.

During the weeks that elapsed while the three great armies were assembling and taking up their positions, the troops stationed round Brussels had a pleasant time of it. The city itself was crowded with visitors. Here were a number of the wives and friends of the officers of the various armies. Here were many of the French nobility, who had abandoned France upon the landing of Napoleon. Here were numbers of people attracted by curiosity, or the desire of being present at the theater of great events, together with a crowd of simple pleasure-seekers; for Europe had for many years been closed to Englishmen, and as soon as peace had been proclaimed great numbers had crossed the Channel to visit Paris, and had traveled in Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.

The news of Napoleon's return to France had occasioned a great scare among the tourists. A very few days sufficed for the desertion of Paris and other French towns, and so great was the crowd that the packet-boats between Calais and Dover were insufficient to carry them. Many of the visitors to Paris instead of leaving for England made for Belgium, and were joined there by travelers hurrying back from Austria, Germany, and other parts of Europe; for none could say what course the events that would follow Napoleon's return from Elba might take. At Brussels, however, they felt safe; the distance to England was short, and they could, if necessary, leave at any time. Beside, between Belgium and France twelve thousand British troops had been stationed in the strong places, in accordance with the terms of the treaty of Fontainebleau and an agreement made with her allies after the fall of Napoleon.

The streets of Brussels were ablaze with bright colors. Staff-officers in the uniforms of a number of nationalities dashed through the streets, followed by their orderlies. Now and then two or three general officers, riding at a slower pace and engaged in earnest talk, passed along, while the pavements were occupied by crowds of men and officers in all the varieties of British, Dutch, Belgian, Brunswick, Hanoverian, Hessian, and Prussian uniforms. Although Belgium had cast in her lot with the allies the people were by no means unanimous in their sympathies; and, indeed, the majority, from their similarity both in religion and tongue to the French, sympathized with them rather than with the allies, who were for the most part both Protestant and foreigners.

Those who entertained these sentiments, however, kept them to themselves, while the rest fraternized to the best of their power with the troops, many of whom were quartered in the town. As for amusements, there were for the officers the theaters and an opera, while many of the ladies staying in Brussels kept almost open houses; races and athletic sports were got up for the men. The weather at the latter end of May and during the early days of June was delightful; and although all knew that the storm might at any moment burst, it was difficult to believe while so enjoying themselves that to-morrow they might be called upon to meet the enemy in deadly conflict. Even Denis Mulligan had nothing to complain about in his rations, and allowed to Ralph that the Belgians were much more decent people than he had expected to find them.

The months of April and May had passed quietly on the frontier. The cavalry of the allied army on one side, and the French mounted gendarmerie on the other, maintained a vigilant watch over each others' movements, and each endeavored to prevent the passing out of persons who might carry news of the intentions and position of their armies. But the line was far too long to be strictly watched, and French loyalists on the one side and Belgian sympathizers with France on the other, managed to pass with sufficient regularity to keep the generals informed of the movements of their opponents.

Wellington, then, was perfectly aware of the gathering of Napoleon's forces upon the other side of the frontier; but they, like his own troops were scattered over a long front, and yet there was no indication whatever as to the point where Napoleon was likely to break through. During the past three months large bodies of men had labored to restore the ruined fortifications of the frontier towns. The moats had been cleared out and deepened, the walls repaired, and the sluices restored, so that in case of necessity a wide tract of country could be laid under water.

These precautions had been specially taken on the right of the British position where Wellington expected Napoleon's attack, and the general calculated that with the aid of the obstacles so interposed to Napoleon's advance, the troops stationed there would be able to check the tide of invasion until the whole army arrived to their assistance. The country between Brussels and the frontier was reconnoitered, and engineer officers were employed in making sketches of all the positions that appeared likely to offer special advantages as battlefields for an army standing on the defense.

Among others the fields lying in front of the village of Waterloo were mapped, and the spot was specially marked by the duke as one to be occupied in case the enemy forced a way between the British and Prussian armies. On the 12th of June the Duke of Wellington learned that Napoleon and the guards had left Paris for the North, and the next day the officer in command of the cavalry outposts reported that the pickets of French cavalry which had so long faced him had disappeared, and that he had learned from some French custom-house officers that hostilities were about to commence.

On the 15th of June, Ralph Conway had gone with Stapleton into Brussels as usual. Everything was going on with its accustomed regularity. A military band was playing in the park. Numbers of well-appointed carriages, filled with well-dressed ladies, drove to and fro, and crowds of officers and civilians strolled under the trees, greeting their acquaintances and discussing the latest gossip of the town. As to the coming of the French, the topic was so threadbare that no one alluded to it; and no stranger could have imagined from the aspect of the scene that three great armies were lying thirty or forty miles away in readiness to engage at any moment in a desperate struggle. The great subject of talk was the ball that was to be given that evening by the Duchess of Richmond; this was expected altogether to outshine any of the other festivities that had taken place in Brussels during that gay season. It was about half-past four in the afternoon that the young men saw Captain O'Connor approaching.

"Can you young fellows keep a secret?" he asked.

"I think so," Ralph laughed.

"I suppose you are both going to the ball?"

"Of course we are. We are both off duty, and Stapleton here is quite absorbed in the thought of the conquests he intends to make."

"Well, the secret is this. It is quite probable you will not go to the ball at all."

"Why! How it that?" the young officers exclaimed simultaneously. "Is the regiment ordered away?"

"Not yet, lads; but it may be. I have just seen the colonel. He dined with the duke at three o'clock. There were a lot of officers there, and the Prince of Orange, who had just come in from the outposts for the ball, told him that the Prussians at Thuin were attacked this morning, and that a heavy cannonade was going on when he left. Orders were issued half an hour ago for the whole of the troops to be in readiness to march at a moment's notice. There's no saying yet which way the French may come, and this attack upon the Prussians may be only a feint; so not a soldier can be moved till more is known. The first division is ordered to collect at Ath to-night, the third at Braine-le-Comte, and the fourth at Grammont. The fifth—that is ours—with the Eighty-first and the Hanoverian brigade, and the sixth division, of course collect here. All are to be in readiness to march at a moment's notice. The Prince of Orange is to gather the second and third Dutch divisions at Nivelles. Of course this first skirmish may only be intended to feel our force and positions; but at any rate, it is a sign that the game is going to begin."

"But if the orders are issued, and the troops are to collect to-night, the secret cannot be kept long."

"No; by this time the divisional orders will be published, and everyone will know it in an hour or two. There is really no secret about it, lads. If there had been the colonel wouldn't have told me, and I shouldn't have told you. See, the news is circulating already."

A change was indeed taking place in the position of the scene. The loungers were gathering in little groups, talking eagerly and excitedly. The orders for the concentration of the divisions had become known, though as yet all were in ignorance as to the reason for their issue. The three officers joined some of the groups and listened to the talk. The general idea was that the duke had heard that the French were gathering for an attack, and these measures were merely precautionary. It might be days yet before the affair really began. Still it was important news; and there were pale faces among the ladies at this sudden reminder that the assembly at Brussels was not a mere holiday gathering, but that war, grim, earnest, and terrible, was impending.

"We had better be getting back to our quarters," Captain O'Connor said. "Everything will have to be packed up this evening."

"But does this mean that the troops are to be under arms all night?" Stapleton asked.

"That it does, Stapleton. Of course they won't be kept standing in line; but when troops are ordered to be in readiness to march at a moment's notice, on such a business as this, it means that they will all be assembled. Then probably they will be allowed to lie down, and perhaps will light bivouac fires. But it means business, I can tell you."

"Then I for one shan't go to the ball," Ralph said. "No doubt it will be a pretty sight; but there have been lots of balls, and this bivouac will be a new experience altogether."

"I don't know that you are wrong, Conway," Captain O'Connor said. "Beside, you will probably find the colonel will issue orders that only a certain number of officers may go. I shall look in for an hour or two just to see the scene. But I don't know many people, and with a room full of generals and colonels, and three or four men to each lady, there won't be much chance of getting partners."

When they reached the village Stapleton said good-by to them, as his company lay half a mile further on; and Captain O'Connor and Ralph entered their quarters. They found their servants busy packing up the baggage.

"What is this all about, O'Connor?" Lieutenant Desmond asked.

"It is in orders that the whole division is to assemble to-night in readiness to march at a moment's notice. News has come that the French have attacked the Prussian outposts, and the duke is not to be caught napping. Of course it may be nothing but an outpost skirmish; still it may be the beginning of operations on a grand scale."

"And there is an order," Desmond said dolefully, "that only one officer in each company is to go to the ball."

"You want to go—eh, Desmond?"

"Well, of course I should like to go, and so would everyone I suppose, however, it can't be helped; for of course you will go yourself."

"Well, I have made up my mind to look in for an hour or two. Conway doesn't wish to go. I'll tell you how we will arrange, Desmond. What the order means is that two officers must stop with their company. It doesn't matter in the least who they are; so that there are two out of the three with the men. Dancing will begin about eight o'clock. I will look in there at nine. An hour will be enough for me; so I will come back to the company, and you can slip away and stop there till it's over."

"Thank you very much," Desmond said gratefully.

"And look here, Desmond. You had better arrange with your man to leave your undress uniform out; so that when you get back from the ball you can slip into it and have the other packed up. That's what I am going to do. I can't afford to have my best uniform spoiled by having to sleep in it in the mud. A captain's pay doesn't run to such extravagance as that."

"What will be done with the baggage if we have to march?"

"Oh, I don't suppose we shall march to-night. But if we do, the quartermaster will detail a party to collect all the baggage left behind and put it in store. We needn't bother about that; especially when, for aught we know, we may never come back to claim it."

But although O'Connor did not know it, the duke had by this time received news indicating that the attack upon the Prussian outpost was the beginning of a great movement, and that the whole French army were pressing forward by the road where the Prussian and British army joined hands.

At daybreak the French had advanced in three columns—the right upon Chatelet, five miles below Charleroi, on the Sambre; the center on Charleroi itself; the left on Marchienne. Zieten, who was in command of the Prussian corps d'armée, defended the bridges at these three points stoutly, and then contested every foot of the ground, his cavalry making frequent charges; so that at the end of the day the French had only advanced five miles. This stout resistance enabled Blucher to bring up two out of his other three corps, Bulow, whose corps was at Liege, forty miles away, receiving his orders too late to march that day. The rest of the Prussian army concentrated round the villages of Fleurs and Ligny.

Accordingly at ten o'clock in the evening orders were issued by Wellington for the third division to march at once from Braine-le-Comte to Nivelles, for the first to move from Enghien to Braine-le-Comte, and for the second and fourth divisions to march from Ath and Grammont on Enghien. No fresh orders were issued to the troops round Brussels; and although it was known at the ball that the troops were in readiness to march at a moment's notice, there were none except the generals and a few members of the staff who had an idea that the moment was so near at hand. The regiments stationed at a distance from Brussels were assembled in the park by ten o'clock in the evening; then arms were piled, and the men permitted to fall out.

Only a few lighted fires, for the night was warm. The artillery, however, who had all along been bivouacked in the park, had their fires going as usual, and round these many of the troops gathered, but the greater part wrapped themselves in their cloaks and went quietly to sleep. Ralph strolled about for an hour or two, chatting with other officers and looking at the groups of sleepers, and listening to the talk of the soldiers gathered round the fires. Among them were many old Peninsular men, whose experience now rendered them authorities among the younger soldiers, who listened eagerly to the details of the desperate struggle at Albuera, the terrible storming of the fortresses, and lighter tales of life and adventure in Spain. Many of the men whose quarters lay near the scene of assembly had been permitted to return to them, with strict orders to be ready to join the ranks should the bugle sound.

 


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