If for a moment I doubted what it all might mean, a couple of pistol-shots, followed by a loose volley that mixt itself with oaths and yells, all too quickly put this out of doubt. My men were being charged, without question or challenge, by a troop of the enemy, while separated by a quarter of a mile of darkness and stiff rising ground from me, who alone carried their credentials. Little need to say in what hurry I wheeled my mare about to the slope, struck spur, dragged my trumpet loose on its sling and blew, as best I could, the call that both armies accepted for note of parley. Belike (let me do the villains this credit), with the jolt and heave of the mare’s shoulders knocking the breath out of me, I sounded it ill, or in the noise and scuffle they heard confusedly and missed heeding. The firing continued, at any rate, and before I gained the gate the fight had swept up the lane.
I swung out upon the hard stones and dashed after it. But the enemy, by this, had my fellows on the run, and were driving them at stretch gallop. To worsen my plight, as I pursued I caught sound of hoofs pounding behind and, as it seemed, overtaking me; supposed that a horseman was riding me down; and, reining the mare back fiercely, slued about to meet his onset. It proved to be the poor pack-horse I had left in the valley! He must have galloped like a racer; but now he came to a halt, and thrust his poor bewildered face towards me through the darkness. Commending him to the devil, I wheeled about once more and struck spur; and as I galloped, he galloped anew behind.
This diversion had cost me a good fifty yards. I knew well enough that the lane sooner or later must lead out into the high-road, and made sure that if my fellows gained it first they would head back for Farnham. (What would befall me I left to Providence!) But some two or three of the enemy must have raced ahead and cut off that retreat; for when I came to it the way to the right lay open indeed, but the whole welter was pounding down the road to the left, straight for Alton. Again I followed, and in less than two hundred yards was pressing close upon three or four of the rearmost riders. This seemed to me good opportunity for another call on my trumpet, and I blew, without easing my speed. On the sound of it, one of the dark figures in front swung round in saddle and fired, I saw the flash and the light of it on his gorget and morion: and with that, the bullet glancing against my mare’s shoulder, she swerved wildly, leapt high, and came down with forelegs planted, pitching me neck-and-crop out of saddle upon the frozen road.