How the King Held the Brigadier
by Sir Arthur
Murat was undoubtedly an excellent cavalry officer, but he had
too much swagger, which spoils many a good soldier. Lasalle, too,
was a very dashing leader, but he ruined himself with wine and
folly. Now I, Etienne Gerard, was always totally devoid of
swagger, and at the same time I was very abstemious, except,
maybe, at the end of a campaign, or when I met an old
comrade-in-arms. For these reasons I might, perhaps, had it not
been for a certain diffidence, have claimed to be the most
valuable officer in my own branch of the Service. It is true that
I never rose to be more than a chief of brigade, but then, as
everyone knows, no one had a chance of rising to the top unless
he had the good fortune to be with the Emperor in his early
campaigns. Except Lasalle, and Labau, and Drouet, I can hardly
remember any one of the generals who had not already made his
name before the Egyptian business. Even I, with all my brilliant
qualities, could only attain the head of my brigade, and also the
special medal of honour, which I received from the Emperor
himself, and which I keep at home in a leathern pouch.
But though I never rose higher than this, my qualities were
very well known to those who had served with me, and also to the
English. After they had captured me in the way which I described
to you the other night, they kept a very good guard over me at
Oporto, and I promise you that they did not give such a
formidable opponent a chance of slipping through their fingers.
It was on the 10th of August that I was escorted on board the
transport which was to take us to England, and behold me before
the end of the month in the great prison which had been built for
us at Dartmoor!
'L'hôtel Français, et Pension,' we used to call
it, for you understand that we were all brave men there, and that
we did not lose our spirits because we were in adversity.
It was only those officers who refused to give their parole
who were confined at Dartmoor, and most of the prisoners were
seamen, or from the ranks. You ask me, perhaps, why it was that I
did not give this parole, and so enjoy the same good treatment as
most of my brother officers. Well, I had two reasons, and both of
them were sufficiently strong.
In the first place, I had so much confidence in myself, that I
was quite convinced that I could escape. In the second, my
family, though of good repute, has never been wealthy, and I
could not bring myself to take anything from the small income of
my mother. On the other hand, it would never do for a man like me
to be outshone by the bourgeois society of an English country
town, or to be without the means of showing courtesies and
attentions to those ladies whom I should attract. It was for
these reasons that I preferred to be buried in the dreadful
prison of Dartmoor. I wish now to tell you of my adventures in
England, and how far Milor Wellington's words were true when he
said that his King would hold me.
And first of all I may say that if it were not that I have set
off to tell you about what befell myself, I could keep you here
until morning with my stories about Dartmoor itself, and about
the singular things which occurred there. It was one of the very
strangest places in the whole world, for there, in the middle of
that great desolate waste, were herded together seven or eight
thousand men—warriors, you understand, men of experience
and courage. Around there were a double wall and a ditch, and
warders and soldiers; but, my faith! you could not coop men like
that up like rabbits in a hutch! They would escape by twos and
tens and twenties, and then the cannon would boom, and the search
parties run, and we, who were left behind, would laugh and dance
and shout 'Vive l'Empereur' until the warders would turn their
muskets upon us in their passion. And then we would have our
little mutinies, too, and up would come the infantry and the guns
from Plymouth, and that would set us yelling 'Vive l'Empereur'
once more, as though we wished them to hear us in Paris. We had
lively moments at Dartmoor, and we contrived that those who were
about us should be lively also.
You must know that the prisoners there had their own Courts of
Justice, in which they tried their own cases, and inflicted their
own punishments. Stealing and quarrelling were punished—but
most of all treachery. When I came there first there was a man,
Meunier, from Rheims, who had given information of some plot to
escape. Well, that night, owing to some form or other which had
to be gone through, they did not take him out from among the
other prisoners, and though he wept and screamed, and grovelled
upon the ground, they left him there amongst the comrades whom he
had betrayed. That night there was a trial with a whispered
accusation and a whispered defence, a gagged prisoner, and a
judge whom none could see. In the morning, when they came for
their man with papers for his release, there was not as much of
him left as you could put upon your thumb-nail. They were
ingenious people, these prisoners, and they had their own way of
We officers, however, lived in a separate wing, and a very
singular group of people we were. They had left us our uniforms,
so that there was hardly a corps which had served under Victor,
or Massena, or Ney, which was not represented there, and some had
been there from the time when Junot was beaten at Vimiera. We had
chasseurs in their green tunics, and hussars, like myself, and
blue-coated dragoons, and white-fronted lancers, and voltigeurs,
and grenadiers, and the men of the artillery and engineers. But
the greater part were naval officers, for the English had had the
better of us upon the seas. I could never understand this until I
journeyed myself from Oporto to Plymouth, when I lay for seven
days upon my back, and could not have stirred had I seen the
eagle of the regiment carried off before my eyes. It was in
perfidious weather like this that Nelson took advantage of
I had no sooner got into Dartmoor than I began to plan to get
out again, and you can readily believe that, with wits sharpened
by twelve years of warfare, it was not very long before I saw my
You must know, in the first place, that I had a very great
advantage in having some knowledge of the English language. I
learned it during the months that I spent before Danzig, from
Adjutant Obriant, of the Regiment Irlandais, who was sprung from
the ancient kings of the country. I was quickly able to speak it
with some facility, for I do not take long to master anything to
which I set my mind. In three months I could not only express my
meaning, but I could use the idioms of the people. It was Obriant
who taught me to say 'Be jabers,' just as we might say 'Ma foi';
and also 'The curse of Crummle!' which means 'Ventre bleu!' Many
a time I have seen the English smile with pleasure when they have
heard me speak so much like one of themselves.
We officers were put two in a cell, which was very little to
my taste, for my room-mate was a tall, silent man named Beaumont,
of the Flying Artillery, who had been taken by the English
cavalry at Astorga.
It is seldom I meet a man of whom I cannot make a friend, for
my disposition and manners are—as you know them. But this
fellow had never a smile for my jests, nor an ear for my sorrows,
but would sit looking at me with his sullen eyes, until sometimes
I thought that his two years of captivity had driven him crazy.
Ah, how I longed that old Bouvet, or any of my comrades of the
hussars, was there, instead of this mummy of a man. But such as
he was I had to make the best of him, and it was very evident
that no escape could be made unless he were my partner in it, for
what could I possibly do without him observing me? I hinted at
it, therefore, and then by degrees I spoke more plainly, until it
seemed to me that I had prevailed upon him to share my lot.
I tried the walls, and I tried the floor, and I tried the
ceiling, but though I tapped and probed, they all appeared to be
very thick and solid. The door was of iron, shutting with a
spring lock, and provided with a small grating, through which a
warder looked twice in every night. Within there were two beds,
two stools, two washstands—nothing more. It was enough for
my wants, for when had I had as much during those twelve years
spent in camps? But how was I to get out? Night after night I
thought of my five hundred hussars, and had dreadful nightmares,
in which I fancied that the whole regiment needed shoeing, or
that my horses were all bloated with green fodder, or that they
were foundered from bogland, or that six squadrons were clubbed
in the presence of the Emperor. Then I would awake in a cold
sweat, and set to work picking and tapping at the walls once
more; for I knew very well that there is no difficulty which
cannot be overcome by a ready brain and a pair of cunning
There was a single window in our cell, which was too small to
admit a child. It was further defended by a thick iron bar in the
centre. It was not a very promising point of escape, as you will
allow, but I became more and more convinced that our efforts must
be directed towards it. To make matters worse, it only led out
into the exercise yard, which was surrounded by two high walls.
Still, as I said to my sullen comrade, it is time to talk of the
Vistula when you are over the Rhine. I got a small piece of iron,
therefore, from the fittings of my bed, and I set to work to
loosen the plaster at the top and the bottom of the bar. Three
hours I would work, and then leap into my bed upon the sound of
the warder's step. Then another three hours, and then very often
another yet, for I found that Beaumont was so slow and clumsy at
it that it was on myself only that I could rely.
I pictured to myself my Third of Hussars waiting just outside
that window, with kettle-drums and standards and leopard-skin
schabraques all complete. Then I would work like a madman, until
my iron was crusted with blood, as if with rust. And so, night by
night, I loosened that stony plaster, and hid it away in the
stuffing of my pillow, until the hour came when the iron shook;
and then with one good wrench it came off in my hand, and my
first step had been made towards freedom.
You will ask me what better off I was, since, as I have said,
a child could not have fitted through the opening. I will tell
you. I had gained two things—a tool and a weapon. With the
one I might loosen the stone which flanked the window. With the
other I might defend myself when I had scrambled through. So now
I turned my attention to that stone, and I picked and picked with
the sharpened end of my bar until I had worked out the mortar all
round. You understand, of course, that during the day I replaced
everything in its position, and that the warder was never
permitted to see a speck upon the floor. At the end of three
weeks I had separated the stone, and had the rapture of drawing
it through, and seeing a hole left with ten stars shining through
it, where there had been but four before. All was ready for us
now, and I had replaced the stone, smearing the edges of it round
with a little fat and soot, so as to hide the cracks where the
mortar should have been. In three nights the moon would be gone,
and that seemed the best time for our attempt.
I had now no doubt at all about getting into the yards, but I
had very considerable misgivings as to how I was to get out
again. It would be too humiliating, after trying here, and trying
there, to have to go back to my hole again in despair, or to be
arrested by the guards outside, and thrown into those damp
underground cells which are reserved for prisoners who are caught
in escaping. I set to work, therefore, to plan what I should do.
I have never, as you know, had the chance of showing what I could
do as a general. Sometimes, after a glass or two of wine, I have
found myself capable of thinking out surprising combinations, and
have felt that if Napoleon had intrusted me with an army corps,
things might have gone differently with him. But however that may
be, there is no doubt that in the small stratagems of war, and in
that quickness of invention which is so necessary for an officer
of light cavalry, I could hold my own against anyone. It was now
that I had need of it, and I felt sure that it would not fail
The inner wall which I had to scale was built of bricks, 12ft.
high, with a row of iron spikes, 3in. apart upon the top. The
outer I had only caught a glimpse of once or twice, when the gate
of the exercise yard was open. It appeared to be about the same
height, and was also spiked at the top. The space between the
walls was over twenty feet, and I had reason to believe that
there were no sentries there, except at the gates. On the other
hand, I knew that there was a line of soldiers outside. Behold
the little nut, my friends, which I had to open with no crackers,
save these two hands.
One thing upon which I relied was the height of my comrade
Beaumont. I have already said that he was a very tall man, six
feet at least, and it seemed to me that if I could mount upon his
shoulders, and get my hands upon the spikes, I could easily scale
the wall. Could I pull my big companion up after me? That was the
question, for when I set forth with a comrade, even though it be
one for whom I bear no affection, nothing on earth would make me
abandon him. If I climbed the wall and he could not follow me, I
should be compelled to return to him. He did not seem to concern
himself much about it, however, so I hoped that he had confidence
in his own activity.
Then another very important matter was the choice of the
sentry who should be on duty in front of my window at the time of
our attempt. They were changed every two hours to insure their
vigilance, but I, who watched them closely each night out of my
window, knew that there was a great difference between them.
There were some who were so keen that a rat could not cross the
yard unseen, while others thought only of their own ease, and
could sleep as soundly leaning upon a musket as if they were at
home upon a feather bed. There was one especially, a fat, heavy
man, who would retire into the shadow of the wall and doze so
comfortably during his two hours, that I have dropped pieces of
plaster from my window at his very feet, without his observing
it. By good luck, this fellow's watch was due from twelve to two
upon the night which we had fixed upon for our enterprise.
As the last day passed, I was so filled with nervous agitation
that I could not control myself, but ran ceaselessly about my
cell, like a mouse in a cage. Every moment I thought that the
warder would detect the looseness of the bar, or that the sentry
would observe the unmortared stone, which I could not conceal
outside, as I did within. As for my companion, he sat brooding
upon the end of his bed, looking at me in a sidelong fashion from
time to time, and biting his nails like one who is deep in
'Courage, my friend!' I cried, slapping him upon the shoulder.
'You will see your guns before another month be past.'
'That is very well,' said he. 'But whither will you fly when
you get free?'
'To the coast,' I answered. 'All comes right for a brave man,
and I shall make straight for my regiment.'
'You are more likely to make straight for the underground
cells, or for the Portsmouth hulks,' said he.
'A soldier takes his chances,' I remarked. 'It is only the
poltroon who reckons always upon the worst.'
I raised a flush in each of his sallow cheeks at that, and I
was glad of it, for it was the first sign of spirit which I had
ever observed in him. For a moment he put his hand out towards
his water-jug, as though he would have hurled it at me, but then
he shrugged his shoulders and sat in silence once more, biting
his nails, and scowling down at the floor. I could not but think,
as I looked at him, that perhaps I was doing the Flying Artillery
a very bad service by bringing him back to them.
I never in my life have known an evening pass as slowly as
that one. Towards nightfall a wind sprang up, and as the darkness
deepened it blew harder and harder, until a terrible gale was
whistling over the moor. As I looked out of my window I could not
catch a glimpse of a star, and the black clouds were flying low
across the heavens. The rain was pouring down, and what with its
hissing and splashing, and the howling and screaming of the wind,
it was impossible for me to hear the steps of the sentinels. 'If
I cannot hear them,' thought I, 'then it is unlikely that they
can hear me'; and I waited with the utmost impatience until the
time when the inspector should have come round for his nightly
peep through our grating. Then having peered through the
darkness, and seen nothing of the sentry, who was doubtless
crouching in some corner out of the rain, I felt that the moment
was come. I removed the bar, pulled out the stone, and motioned
to my companion to pass through.
'After you, Colonel,' said he.
'Will you not go first?' I asked.
'I had rather you showed me the way.'
'Come after me, then, but come silently, as you value your
In the darkness I could hear the fellow's teeth chattering,
and I wondered whether a man ever had such a partner in a
desperate enterprise. I seized the bar, however, and mounting
upon my stool, I thrust my head and shoulders into the hole. I
had wriggled through as far as my waist, when my companion seized
me suddenly by the knees, and yelled at the top of his voice:
'Help! Help! A prisoner is escaping!'
Ah, my friends, what did I not feel at that moment! Of course,
I saw in an instant the game of this vile creature. Why should he
risk his skin in climbing walls when he might be sure of a free
pardon from the English for having prevented the escape of one so
much more distinguished than himself? I had recognized him as a
poltroon and a sneak, but I had not understood the depth of
baseness to which he could descend. One who has spent his life
among gentlemen and men of honour does not think of such things
until they happen.
The blockhead did not seem to understand that he was lost more
certainly than I. I writhed back in the darkness, and seizing him
by the throat, I struck him twice with my iron bar. At the first
blow he yelped as a little cur does when you tread upon its paw.
At the second, down he fell with a groan upon the floor. Then I
seated myself upon my bed, and waited resignedly for whatever
punishment my gaolers might inflict upon me.
But a minute passed and yet another, with no sound save the
heavy, snoring breathing of the senseless wretch upon the floor.
Was it possible, then, that amid the fury of the storm his
warning cries had passed unheeded? At first it was but a tiny
hope, another minute and it was probable, another and it was
certain. There was no sound in the corridor, none in the
courtyard. I wiped the cold sweat from my brow, and asked myself
what I should do next.
One thing seemed certain. The man on the floor must die. If I
left him I could not tell how short a time it might be before he
gave the alarm. I dare not strike a light, so I felt about in the
darkness until my hand came upon something wet, which I knew to
be his head. I raised my iron bar, but there was something, my
friends, which prevented me from bringing it down. In the heat of
fight I have slain many men—men of honour, too, who had
done me no injury. Yet here was this wretch, a creature too foul
to live, who had tried to work me so great a mischief, and yet I
could not bring myself to crush his skull in. Such deeds are very
well for a Spanish partida—or for that matter a sansculotte
of the Faubourg St Antoine—but not for a soldier and a
gentleman like me.
However, the heavy breathing of the fellow made me hope that
it might be a very long time before he recovered his senses. I
gagged him, therefore, and bound him with strips of blanket to
the bed, so that in his weakened condition there was good reason
to think that, in any case, he might not get free before the next
visit of the warder. But now again I was faced with new
difficulties, for you will remember that I had relied upon his
height to help me over the walls. I could have sat down and shed
tears of despair had not the thought of my mother and of the
Emperor come to sustain me. 'Courage!' said I. 'If it were anyone
but Etienne Gerard he would be in a bad fix now; that is a young
man who is not so easily caught.'
I set to work therefore upon Beaumont's sheet as well as my
own, and by tearing them into strips and then plaiting them
together, I made a very excellent rope. This I tied securely to
the centre of my iron bar, which was a little over a foot in
length. Then I slipped out into the yard, where the rain was
pouring and the wind screaming louder than ever. I kept in the
shadow of the prison wall, but it was as black as the ace of
spades, and I could not see my own hand in front of me. Unless I
walked into the sentinel I felt that I had nothing to fear from
him. When I had come under the wall I threw up my bar, and to my
joy it stuck the very first time between the spikes at the top. I
climbed up my rope, pulled it after me, and dropped down on the
other side. Then I scaled the second wall, and was sitting
astride among the spikes upon the top, when I saw something
twinkle in the darkness beneath me. It was the bayonet of the
sentinel below, and so close was it (the second wall being rather
lower than the first) that I could easily, by leaning over, have
unscrewed it from its socket. There he was, humming a tune to
himself, and cuddling up against the wall to keep himself warm,
little thinking that a desperate man within a few feet of him was
within an ace of stabbing him to the heart with his own weapon. I
was already bracing myself for the spring when the fellow, with
an oath, shouldered his musket, and I heard his steps squelching
through the mud as he resumed his beat. I slipped down my rope,
and, leaving it hanging, I ran at the top of my speed across the
Heavens, how I ran! The wind buffeted my face and buzzed in my
nostrils. The rain pringled upon my skin and hissed past my ears.
I stumbled into holes. I tripped over bushes. I fell among
brambles. I was torn and breathless and bleeding. My tongue was
like leather, my feet like lead, and my heart beating like a
kettle-drum. Still I ran, and I ran, and I ran.
But I had not lost my head, my friends. Everything was done
with a purpose. Our fugitives always made for the coast. I was
determined to go inland, and the more so as I had told Beaumont
the opposite. I would fly to the north, and they would seek me in
the south. Perhaps you will ask me how I could tell which was
which on such a night. I answer that it was by the wind. I had
observed in the prison that it came from the north, and so, as
long as I kept my face to it, I was going in the right
Well, I was rushing along in this fashion when, suddenly, I
saw two yellow lights shining out of the darkness in front of me.
I paused for a moment, uncertain what I should do. I was still in
my hussar uniform, you understand, and it seemed to me that the
very first thing that I should aim at was to get some dress which
should not betray me. If these lights came from a cottage, it was
probable enough that I might find what I wanted there. I
approached, therefore, feeling very sorry that I had left my iron
bar behind; for I was determined to fight to the death before I
should be retaken.
But very soon I found that there was no cottage there. The
lights were two lamps hung upon each side of a carriage, and by
their glare I saw that a broad road lay in front of me. Crouching
among the bushes, I observed that there were two horses to the
equipage, that a small post-boy was standing at their heads, and
that one of the wheels was lying in the road beside him. I can
see them now, my friends: the steaming creatures, the stunted lad
with his hands to their bits, and the big, black coach, all
shining with the rain, and balanced upon its three wheels. As I
looked, the window was lowered, and a pretty little face under a
bonnet peeped out from it.
'What shall I do?' the lady cried to the post-boy, in a voice
of despair. 'Sir Charles is certainly lost, and I shall have to
spend the night upon the moor.'
'Perhaps I can be of some assistance to madame,' said I,
scrambling out from among the bushes into the glare of the lamps.
A woman in distress is a sacred thing to me, and this one was
beautiful. You must not forget that, although I was a colonel, I
was only eight-and-twenty years of age.
My word, how she screamed, and how the post-boy stared! You
will understand that after that long race in the darkness, with
my shako broken in, my face smeared with dirt, and my uniform all
stained and torn with brambles, I was not entirely the sort of
gentleman whom one would choose to meet in the middle of a lonely
moor. Still, after the first surprise, she soon understood that I
was her very humble servant, and I could even read in her pretty
eyes that my manner and bearing had not failed to produce an
impression upon her.
'I am sorry to have startled you, madame,' said I. 'I chanced
to overhear your remark, and I could not refrain from offering
you my assistance.' I bowed as I spoke. You know my bow, and can
realize what its effect was upon the lady.
'I am much indebted to you, sir,' said she. 'We have had a
terrible journey since we left Tavistock. Finally, one of our
wheels came off, and here we are helpless in the middle of the
moor. My husband, Sir Charles, has gone on to get help, and I
much fear that he must have lost his way.'
I was about to attempt some consolation, when I saw beside the
lady a black travelling coat, faced with astrakhan, which her
companion must have left behind him. It was exactly what I needed
to conceal my uniform. It is true that I felt very much like a
highway robber, but then, what would you have? Necessity has no
law, and I was in an enemy's country.
'I presume, madame, that this is your husband's coat,' I
remarked. 'You will, I am sure, forgive me, if I am compelled
to—' I pulled it through the window as I spoke.
I could not bear to see the look of surprise and fear and
disgust which came over her face.
'Oh, I have been mistaken in you!' she cried. 'You came to rob
me, then, and not to help me. You have the bearing of a
gentleman, and yet you steal my husband's coat.'
'Madame,' said I, 'I beg that you will not condemn me until
you know everything. It is quite necessary that I should take
this coat, but if you will have the goodness to tell me who it is
who is fortunate enough to be your husband, I shall see that the
coat is sent back to him.'
Her face softened a little, though she still tried to look
severe. 'My husband,' she answered, 'is Sir Charles Meredith, and
he is travelling to Dartmoor Prison, upon important Government
business. I only ask you, sir, to go upon your way, and to take
nothing which belongs to him.'
'There is only one thing which belongs to him that I covet,'
'And you have taken it from the carriage,' she cried.
'No,' I answered. 'It still remains there.'
She laughed in her frank English way.
'If, instead of paying me compliments, you were to return my
husband's coat—' she began.
'Madame,' I answered, 'what you ask is quite impossible. If
you will allow me to come into the carriage, I will explain to
you how necessary this coat is to me.'
Heaven knows into what foolishness I might have plunged myself
had we not, at this instant, heard a faint halloa in the
distance, which was answered by a shout from the little post-boy.
In the rain and the darkness, I saw a lantern some distance from
us, but approaching rapidly.
'I am sorry, madame, that I am forced to leave you,' said I.
'You can assure your husband that I shall take every care of his
coat.' Hurried as I was, I ventured to pause a moment to salute
the lady's hand, which she snatched through the window with an
admirable pretence of being offended at my presumption. Then, as
the lantern was quite close to me, and the post-boy seemed
inclined to interfere with my flight, I tucked my precious
overcoat under my arm, and dashed off into the darkness.
And now I set myself to the task of putting as broad a stretch
of moor between the prison and myself as the remaining hours of
darkness would allow. Setting my face to the wind once more, I
ran until I fell from exhaustion. Then, after five minutes of
panting among the heather, I made another start, until again my
knees gave way beneath me. I was young and hard, with muscles of
steel, and a frame which had been toughened by twelve years of
camp and field. Thus I was able to keep up this wild flight for
another three hours, during which I still guided myself, you
understand, by keeping the wind in my face. At the end of that
time I calculated that I had put nearly twenty miles between the
prison and myself. Day was about to break, so I crouched down
among the heather upon the top of one of those small hills which
abound in that country, with the intention of hiding myself until
nightfall. It was no new thing for me to sleep in the wind and
the rain, so, wrapping myself up in my thick warm cloak, I soon
sank into a doze.
But it was not a refreshing slumber. I tossed and tumbled amid
a series of vile dreams, in which everything seemed to go wrong
with me. At last, I remember, I was charging an unshaken square
of Hungarian Grenadiers, with a single squadron upon spent
horses, just as I did at Elchingen. I stood in my stirrups to
shout 'Vive l'Empereur!' and as I did so, there came the
answering roar from my hussars, 'Vive l'Empereur!' I sprang from
my rough bed, with the words still ringing in my ears, and then,
as I rubbed my eyes, and wondered if I were mad, the same cry
came again, five thousand voices in one long-drawn yell. I looked
out from my screen of brambles, and saw in the clear light of
morning the very last thing that I should either have expected or
It was Dartmoor Prison! There it stretched, grim and hideous,
within a furlong of me. Had I run on for a few more minutes in
the dark, I should have butted my shako against the wall. I was
so taken aback at the sight, that I could scarcely realize what
had happened. Then it all became clear to me, and I struck my
head with my hands in my despair. The wind had veered from north
to south during the night, and I, keeping my face always towards
it, had run ten miles out and ten miles in, winding up where I
had started. When I thought of my hurry, my falls, my mad rushing
and jumping, all ending in this, it seemed so absurd, that my
grief changed suddenly to amusement, and I fell among the
brambles, and laughed, and laughed, until my sides were sore.
Then I rolled myself up in my cloak and considered seriously what
I should do.
One lesson which I have learned in my roaming life, my
friends, is never to call anything a misfortune until you have
seen the end of it. Is not every hour a fresh point of view? In
this case I soon perceived that accident had done for me as much
as the most profound cunning. My guards naturally commenced their
search from the place where I had taken Sir Charles Meredith's
coat, and from my hiding-place I could see them hurrying along
the road to that point. Not one of them ever dreamed that I could
have doubled back from there, and I lay quite undisturbed in the
little bush-covered cup at the summit of my knoll. The prisoners
had, of course, learned of my escape, and all day exultant yells,
like that which had aroused me in the morning, resounded over the
moor, bearing a welcome message of sympathy and companionship to
my ears. How little did they dream that on the top of that very
mound, which they could see from their windows, was lying the
comrade whose escape they were celebrating? As for me—I
could look down upon this poor herd of idle warriors, as they
paced about the great exercise yard, or gathered in little
groups, gesticulating joyfully over my success. Once I heard a
howl of execration, and I saw Beaumont, his head all covered with
bandages, being led across the yard by two of the warders. I
cannot tell you the pleasure which this sight gave me, for it
proved that I had not killed him, and also that the others knew
the true story of what had passed. They had all known me too well
to think that I could have abandoned him.
All that long day I lay behind my screen of bushes, listening
to the bells which struck the hours below.
My pockets were filled with bread which I had saved out of my
allowance, and on searching my borrowed overcoat I came upon a
silver flask, full of excellent brandy and water, so that I was
able to get through the day without hardship. The only other
things in the pockets were a red silk handkerchief, a
tortoise-shell snuff-box, and a blue envelope, with a red seal,
addressed to the Governor of Dartmoor Prison. As to the first
two, I determined to send them back when I should return the coat
The letter caused me more perplexity, for the Governor had
always shown me every courtesy, and it offended my sense of
honour that I should interfere with his correspondence. I had
almost made up my mind to leave it under a stone upon the roadway
within musket-shot of the gate. This would guide them in their
search for me, however, and so, on the whole, I saw no better way
than just to carry the letter with me in the hope that I might
find some means of sending it back to him. Meanwhile I packed it
safely away in my inner-most pocket.
There was a warm sun to dry my clothes, and when night fell I
was ready for my journey. I promise you that there were no
mistakes this time. I took the stars for my guides, as every
hussar should be taught to do, and I put eight good leagues
between myself and the prison. My plan now was to obtain a
complete suit of clothes from the first person whom I could
waylay, and I should then find my way to the north coast, where
there were many smugglers and fishermen who would be ready to
earn the reward which was paid by the Emperor to those who
brought escaping prisoners across the Channel. I had taken the
panache from my shako so that it might escape notice, but even
with my fine overcoat I feared that sooner or later my uniform
would betray me. My first care must be to provide myself with a
When day broke, I saw a river upon my right and a small town
upon my left—the blue smoke reeking up above the moor. I
should have liked well to have entered it, because it would have
interested me to see something of the customs of the English,
which differ very much from those of other nations. Much as I
should have wished, however, to have seen them eat their raw meat
and sell their wives, it would have been dangerous until I had
got rid of my uniform. My cap, my moustache, and my speech would
all help to betray me. I continued to travel towards the north
therefore, looking about me continually, but never catching a
glimpse of my pursuers.
About midday I came to where, in a secluded valley, there
stood a single small cottage without any other building in sight.
It was a neat little house, with a rustic porch and a small
garden in front of it, with a swarm of cocks and hens. I lay down
among the ferns and watched it, for it seemed to be exactly the
kind of place where I might obtain what I wanted. My bread was
finished, and I was exceedingly hungry after my long journey; I
determined, therefore, to make a short reconnaissance, and then
to march up to this cottage, summon it to surrender, and help
myself to all that I needed. It could at least provide me with a
chicken and with an omelette. My mouth watered at the
As I lay there, wondering who could live in this lonely place,
a brisk little fellow came out through the porch, accompanied by
another older man, who carried two large clubs in his hands.
These he handed to his young companion, who swung them up and
down, and round and round, with extraordinary swiftness. The
other, standing beside him, appeared to watch him with great
attention, and occasionally to advise him. Finally he took a
rope, and began skipping like a girl, the other still gravely
observing him. As you may think, I was utterly puzzled as to what
these people could be, and could only surmise that the one was a
doctor, and the other a patient who had submitted himself to some
singular method of treatment.
Well, as I lay watching and wondering, the older man brought
out a great-coat, and held it while the other put it on and
buttoned it to his chin. The day was a warmish one, so that this
proceeding amazed me even more than the other. 'At least,'
thought I, 'it is evident that his exercise is over'; but, far
from this being so, the man began to run, in spite of his heavy
coat, and as it chanced, he came right over the moor in my
direction. His companion had re-entered the house, so that this
arrangement suited me admirably. I would take the small man's
clothing, and hurry on to some village where I could buy
provisions. The chickens were certainly tempting, but still there
were at least two men in the house, so perhaps it would be wiser
for me, since I had no arms, to keep away from it.
I lay quietly then among the ferns. Presently I heard the
steps of the runner, and there he was quite close to me, with his
huge coat, and the perspiration running down his face. He seemed
to be a very solid man—but small—so small that I
feared that his clothes might be of little use to me. When I
jumped out upon him he stopped running, and looked at me in the
'Blow my dickey,' said he, 'give it a name, guv'nor! Is it a
circus, or what?'
That was how he talked, though I cannot pretend to tell you
what he meant by it.
'You will excuse me, sir,' said I, 'but I am under the
necessity of asking you to give me your clothes.'
'Give you what?' he cried.
'Well, if this don't lick cock-fighting!' said he. 'What am I
to give you my clothes for?'
'Because I need them.'
'And suppose I won't?'
'Be jabers,' said I, 'I shall have no choice but to take
He stood with his hands in the pockets of his great-coat, and
a most amused smile upon his square-jawed, clean-shaven face.
'You'll take them, will you?' said he. 'You're a very leery
cove, by the look of you, but I can tell you that you've got the
wrong sow by the ear this time. I know who you are. You're a
runaway Frenchy, from the prison yonder, as anyone could tell
with half an eye. But you don't know who I am, else you wouldn't
try such a plant as that. Why, man, I'm the Bristol Bustler, nine
stone champion, and them's my training quarters down yonder.'
He stared at me as if this announcement of his would have
crushed me to the earth, but I smiled at him in my turn, and
looked him up and down, with a twirl of my moustache.
'You may be a very brave man, sir,' said I, 'but when I tell
you that you are opposed to Colonel Etienne Gerard, of the
Hussars of Conflans, you will see the necessity of giving up your
clothes without further parley.'
'Look here, mounseer, drop it!' he cried; 'this'll end by your
'Your clothes, sir, this instant!' I shouted, advancing
fiercely upon him.
For answer he threw off his heavy great-coat, and stood in a
singular attitude, with one arm out, and the other across his
chest, looking at me with a curious smile. For myself, I knew
nothing of the methods of fighting which these people have, but
on horse or on foot, with arms or without them, I am always ready
to take my own part. You understand that a soldier cannot always
choose his own methods, and that it is time to howl when you are
living among wolves. I rushed at him, therefore, with a warlike
shout, and kicked him with both my feet. At the same moment my
heels flew into the air, I saw as many flashes as at Austerlitz,
and the back of my head came down with a crash upon a stone.
After that I can remember nothing more.
When I came to myself I was lying upon a truckle-bed, in a
bare, half-furnished room. My head was ringing like a bell, and
when I put up my hand, there was a lump like a walnut over one of
my eyes. My nose was full of a pungent smell, and I soon found
that a strip of paper soaked in vinegar was fastened across my
brow. At the other end of the room this terrible little man was
sitting with his knee bare, and his elderly companion was rubbing
it with some liniment. The latter seemed to be in the worst of
tempers, and he kept up a continual scolding, which the other
listened to with a gloomy face.
'Never heard tell of such a thing in my life,' he was saying.
'In training for a month with all the weight of it on my
shoulders, and then when I get you as fit as a trout, and within
two days of fighting the likeliest man on the list, you let
yourself into a by-battle with a foreigner.'
'There, there! Stow your gab!' said the other, sulkily.
'You're a very good trainer, Jim, but you'd be better with less
'I should think it was time to jaw,' the elderly man answered.
'If this knee don't get well before next Wednesday, they'll have
it that you fought a cross, and a pretty job you'll have next
time you look for a backer.'
'Fought a cross!' growled the other. 'I've won nineteen
battles, and no man ever so much as dared to say the word "cross"
in my hearin'. How the deuce was I to get out of it when the cove
wanted the very clothes off my back?'
'Tut, man; you knew that the beak and the guards were within a
mile of you. You could have set them on to him as well then as
now. You'd have got your clothes back again all right.'
'Well, strike me!' said the Bustler. 'I don't often break my
trainin', but when it comes to givin' up my clothes to a Frenchy
who couldn't hit a dint in a pat o' butter, why, it's more than I
'Pooh, man, what are the clothes worth? D'you know that Lord
Rufton alone has five thousand pounds on you? When you jump the
ropes on Wednesday, you'll carry every penny of fifty thousand
into the ring. A pretty thing to turn up with a swollen knee and
a story about a Frenchman!'
'I never thought he'd ha' kicked,' said the Bustler.
'I suppose you expected he'd fight Broughton's rules, and
strict P.R.? Why, you silly, they don't know what fighting is in
'My friends,' said I, sitting up on my bed, 'I do not
understand very much of what you say, but when you speak like
that it is foolishness. We know so much about fighting in France,
that we have paid our little visit to nearly every capital in
Europe, and very soon we are coming to London. But we fight like
soldiers, you understand, and not like gamins in the gutter. You
strike me on the head. I kick you on the knee. It is child's
play. But if you will give me a sword, and take another one, I
will show you how we fight over the water.'
They both stared at me in their solid, English way.
'Well, I'm glad you're not dead, mounseer,' said the elder one
at last. 'There wasn't much sign of life in you when the Bustler
and me carried you down. That head of yours ain't thick enough to
stop the crook of the hardest hitter in Bristol.'
'He's a game cove, too, and he came for me like a bantam,'
said the other, still rubbing his knee. 'I got my old left-right
in, and he went over as if he had been pole-axed. It wasn't my
fault, mounseer. I told you you'd get pepper if you went on.'
'Well, it's something to say all your life, that you've been
handled by the finest light-weight in England,' said the older
man, looking at me with an expression of congratulation upon his
face. 'You've had him at his best, too—in the pink of
condition, and trained by Jim Hunter.'
'I am used to hard knocks,' said I, unbuttoning my tunic, and
showing my two musket wounds. Then I bared my ankle also, and
showed the place in my eye where the guerilla had stabbed me.
'He can take his gruel,' said the Bustler.
'What a glutton he'd have made for the middle-weights,'
remarked the trainer; 'with six months' coaching he'd astonish
the fancy. It's a pity he's got to go back to prison.'
I did not like that last remark at all. I buttoned up my coat
and rose from the bed.
'I must ask you to let me continue my journey,' said I.
'There's no help for it, mounseer,' the trainer answered.
'It's a hard thing to send such a man as you back to such a
place, but business is business, and there's a twenty pound
reward. They were here this morning, looking for you, and I
expect they'll be round again.'
His words turned my heart to lead.
'Surely, you would not betray me!' I cried. 'I will send you
twice twenty pounds on the day that I set foot upon France. I
swear it upon the honour of a French gentleman.'
But I only got head-shakes for a reply. I pleaded, I argued, I
spoke of the English hospitality and the fellowship of brave men,
but I might as well have been addressing the two great wooden
clubs which stood balanced upon the floor in front of me. There
was no sign of sympathy upon their bull-faces.
'Business is business, mounseer,' the old trainer repeated.
'Besides, how am I to put the Bustler into the ring on Wednesday
if he's jugged by the beak for aidin' and abettin' a prisoner of
war? I've got to look after the Bustler, and I take no
This, then, was the end of all my struggles and strivings. I
was to be led back again like a poor silly sheep who has broken
through the hurdles. They little knew me who could fancy that I
should submit to such a fate. I had heard enough to tell me where
the weak point of these two men was, and I showed, as I have
often showed before, that Etienne Gerard is never so terrible as
when all hope seems to have deserted him. With a single spring I
seized one of the clubs and swung it over the head of the
'Come what may,' I cried, 'you shall be spoiled for
The fellow growled out an oath, and would have sprung at me,
but the other flung his arms round him and pinned him to the
'Not if I know it, Bustler,' he screamed. 'None of your games
while I am by. Get away out of this, Frenchy. We only want to see
your back. Run away, run away, or he'll get loose!'
It was good advice, I thought, and I ran to the door, but as I
came out into the open air my head swam round and I had to lean
against the porch to save myself from falling. Consider all that
I had been through, the anxiety of my escape, the long, useless
flight in the storm, the day spent amid wet ferns, with only
bread for food, the second journey by night, and now the injuries
which I had received in attempting to deprive the little man of
his clothes. Was it wonderful that even I should reach the limits
of my endurance?
I stood there in my heavy coat and my poor battered shako, my
chin upon my chest, and my eyelids over my eyes. I had done my
best, and I could do no more. It was the sound of horses' hoofs
which made me at last raise my head, and there was the
grey-moustached Governor of Dartmoor Prison not ten paces in
front of me, with six mounted warders behind him!
'So, Colonel,' said he, with a bitter smile, 'we have found
you once more.'
When a brave man has done his utmost, and has failed, he shows
his breeding by the manner in which he accepts his defeat. For
me, I took the letter which I had in my pocket, and stepping
forward, I handed it with such grace of manner as I could summon
to the Governor.
'It has been my misfortune, sir, to detain one of your
letters,' said I.
He looked at me in amazement, and beckoned to the warders to
arrest me. Then he broke the seal of the letter. I saw a curious
expression come over his face as he read it.
'This must be the letter which Sir Charles Meredith lost,'
'It was in the pocket of his coat.'
'You have carried it for two days?'
'Since the night before last.'
'And never looked at the contents?'
I showed him by my manner that he had committed an
indiscretion in asking a question which one gentleman should not
have put to another.
To my surprise he burst out into a roar of laughter.
'Colonel,' said he, wiping the tears from his eyes, 'you have
really given both yourself and us a great deal of unnecessary
trouble. Allow me to read the letter which you carried with you
in your flight.'
And this was what I heard:—
'On receipt of this you are directed to release Colonel
Etienne Gerard, of the 3rd Hussars, who has been exchanged
against Colonel Mason, of the Horse Artillery, now in
And as he read it, he laughed again, and the warders laughed,
and the two men from the cottage laughed, and then, as I heard
this universal merriment, and thought of all my hopes and fears,
and my struggles and dangers, what could a debonair soldier do
but lean against the porch once more, and laugh as heartily as
any of them? And of them all was it not I who had the best reason
to laugh, since in front of me I could see my dear France, and my
mother, and the Emperor, and my horsemen; while behind lay the
gloomy prison, and the heavy hand of the English King?