Sant' Ilario eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 497 pages of information about Sant' Ilario.

Gouache threw himself on his face along the wall and began quickly to throw down the topmost stones.  The mortar was scarcely more solid than dry mud, and in a few seconds he had made a perceptible impression upon the masonry.  But the riflemen had meanwhile finished reloading and one of them, taking careful aim, fired upon the Zouave.  The bullet hit him in the fleshy part of the shoulder, causing a stinging pain and, what was worse, a shock that nearly sent him rolling over the edge.  Still he clung on desperately, loosening the stones with a strength one would not have expected in his spare frame.  A minute longer, during which half a dozen more balls whizzed over him or flattened themselves against the stones, and then his comrades made another rush, concentrating their force this time at the spot where he had succeeded in lowering the barrier.  His left arm was almost powerless from the flesh-wound in his shoulder, but with his right he helped the first man to a footing beside him.  In a moment more the Zouaves were swarming over the wall and dropping down by scores into the shallow pool on the other side.

The fight was short but desperate.  The enemy, driven to bay in the corners of the yard and within the farmhouse, defended themselves manfully, many of them being killed and many more wounded.  But the place was carried and the great majority fled precipitately through the exits at the back and made the best of their way towards Mentana.

An hour later Gouache was still on his legs, but exhausted by his efforts in scaling the wall and by loss of blood from his wound, he felt that he could not hold out much longer.  The position at that time was precarious.  It was nearly four o’clock and the days were short.  The artillery was playing against the little town, but the guns were light field-pieces of small calibre, and though their position was frequently changed they made but little impression upon the earthworks thrown up by the enemy.  The Garibaldians massed themselves in large numbers as they retreated from various points upon Mentana, and though their weapons were inferior to those of their opponents their numbers made them still formidable.  The Zouaves, gendarmes, and legionaries, however, pressed steadily though slowly onward.  The only question was whether the daylight would last long enough.  Should the enemy have the advantage of the long night in which to bring up reinforcements from Monte Rotondo and repair the breaches in their defences the attack might last through all the next day.

The fortunes of the little battle were decided by the French chasseurs, who had gradually worked out a flanking movement under cover of the trees and the broken country.  Just as Gouache felt that he could stand no longer, a loud shout upon the right announced the charge of the allies, and a few minutes later the day was practically won.  The Zouaves rushed forward, cheered and encouraged by the prospect of immediate success, but Anastase staggered from the ranks and sank down under a tree unable to go any farther.  He had scarcely settled himself in a comfortable position when he lost consciousness and fainted away.

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Sant' Ilario from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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