Then the assailants were dumfounded at what took place. Radoub had entered through the breach at the head of the attacking column, with six others, and, out of these six men of the Prussian battalion, four had already fallen. After he had cried: "I am!" he was seen not to advance but to retreat, and bending down, stooping, crawling almost between the legs of the combatants, he reached the opening of the breach and went out. Was this flight? would such a man flee? what could it mean?
When outside the breach, Radoub, still blinded by the smoke, rubbed his eyes as if to put aside the horror and the darkness, and by the light of the stars looked at the wall of the tower. He gave a nod of satisfaction, as if to say, "I was not mistaken."
Radoub had noticed that the deep cleft made by the explosion of the mine, reached above the breach to the loophole in the first story, the iron grating of which had been broken through and displaced by a cannon ball. The network of broken bars was hanging, half torn away, and a man would be able to creep through.
A man could creep through, but could he climb up there? By the cleft, yes, on condition that he was like a cat.
This was just what Radoub was. He belonged to that race which Pindar calls "agile athletes." An old soldier may be a young man; Radoub, who had been a French Guard, was not forty years old. He was a nimble Hercules.
Radoub laid his musket on the ground, removed his shoulder belt, took off his coat and vest, and kept only his two pistols, which he put in the belt of his trousers, and his bare sword, which he took between his teeth. The handles of the two pistols protruded above his belt.
Thus freed from all encumbrances, and followed in the darkness by the eyes of all those in the attacking column who had not yet entered the breach, he began to mount the stones in the cleft of the wall, like the steps of a staircase. Being without shoes was an advantage to him; nothing clings like a bare foot; he curled his toes into the holes between the stones. He pulled himself up by main force, he braced himself with his knees. The ascent was rough. It was something like climbing over the teeth of a saw. "It is fortunate," he thought, "that there is no one in the room of the first story, for they would not let me climb in this way."
He had no less than forty feet to climb thus. As he mounted, hindered somewhat by the protruding handles of his pistols, the cleft grew narrower and the ascent became more and more difficult; at the same time, the risk of falling increased with the depth of the precipice.
At last he came to the edge of the loophole; he removed the twisted and broken grating so that he had room enough to pass through; by a powerful effort he raised himself up, placed his knee on the cornice of the window-sill, seized the end of a bar on the right, in one hand, and with the other a bar on the left, and rose to his waist in front of the embrasure of the loophole, his sword between his teeth, hanging by his two hands above the abyss.
He had but one more effort to make to enter the hall in the first story.
But a face appeared in the loophole.
Radoub suddenly saw before him in the dim light something frightful. An eye destroyed, a shattered jaw, a face covered with blood.
This one-eyed mask looked at him.
This mask had two hands; these two hands came out of the darkness and approached Radoub; one, with a single grasp, snatched the two pistols from his belt, the other removed his sword from between his teeth.
Radoub was disarmed. His knee was slipping on the inclined plane of the cornice, his two hands grasping the ends of the iron bars could hardly hold him, and he had beneath him forty feet of precipice.
This face and these hands belonged to Chante-en-hiver. Chante-en-hiver, suffocated by the smoke pouring up from below, had succeeded in entering the embrasure of the loophole, and here the outside air had revived him, the coolness of the night had stanched his blood, and he had regained a little strength; suddenly, he saw Radoub's form rise up outside in front of the opening, then as Radoub, clinging to the bars with both hands, had only the choice of falling or being disarmed, Chante-en-hiver, calm and frightful, took the pistols out of his belt and his sword from between his teeth.
An extraordinary duel began. A duel between the unarmed and the wounded.
Without doubt, the dying man had the advantage. One bullet would be enough to hurl Radoub into the yawning gulf, under his feet.
Fortunately for Radoub, Chante-en-hiver, having both pistols in one hand, could shoot neither of them and was forced to make use of the sword. He thrust the point of it into Radoub's shoulder. This thrust wounded Radoub and saved him.
Radoub, without arms, but having all his strength scorned his wound, which did not reach to the bone, sprang forward, let go the bars, and leaped into the embrasure.
Then he found himself face to face with Chante-en-hiver who had thrown the sword behind him, and now held the two pistols in his two hands.
Chante-en-hiver, on his knees, aimed at Radoub who was almost close up to the muzzle; but his weakened arm trembled and he did not immediately shoot.
Radoub took advantage of this respite to burst out laughing.
"Tell me, ugly mug," he cried, "do you think I am going to be afraid of your à-la-mode beef jaws? Sapristi, how they have battered your pretty face!"
Chante-en-hiver was still aiming at him.
"It's not a thing to talk about, but the grapeshot crimped your mouth very prettily. My poor boy, Bellona has smashed your physiognomy. Go ahead, go ahead, spit out your little pistol shot, my good fellow."
The pistol went off and the bullet passed so near Radoub's head that it tore off half of his ear. Chante-en-hiver raised his other arm with the second pistol, but Radoub did not give him time to aim.
"I have had enough of you taking my ears off," he cried. "You have wounded me twice, now it is my turn."
And he rushed at Chante-en-hiver, knocked his arm up making the pistol go off aimlessly, and seized hold of his dislocated jaw.
Chante-en-hiver shrieked and fainted away.
Rodoub stepped over him and left him in the embrasure.
"Now that I have let you know my ultimatum," said he, "don't move again. Stay there, you rascally sneak. You may rest assured that I am not going to amuse myself now with slaughtering you. Crawl about on the floor at you ease, fellow-citizen of my old shoes. Die; you can still do that. You will soon know what nonsense your curé has been telling you. Depart into the great regions of mystery, peasant."
And he sprang into the hall of the first story.
"You can't see a thing here," he growled.
Chante-en-hiver writhed convulsively and shrieked with agony. Radoub turned around.
"Silence! do me the kindness of keeping quiet, unworthy citizen. I will have nothing more to do with you. I scorn to put an end to you. Let me have peace."
And he ran his hand through his hair in perplexity, as he looked at Chante-en-hiver.
"Ah, now what am I going to do? all this is very good, but here I am without arms. I had two shots to fire. You wasted them for me, you beast! and made such a smoke about it that it would blind a dog!"
And hitting his torn ear,—
"Ow!" he said. And he added,—
"It was very forward of you to confiscate one of my ears; but indeed, I would rather lose that than anything else, for it was only an ornament. You scratched my shoulder too, but that is nothing. Die, clown, I forgive you."
He listened, the tumult in the lower hall was frightful. The fight was more furious than ever.
"They are getting on well down there. Never mind, they are howling 'Long live the king.' They are dying nobly,"
His feet hit against his sword on the floor. He picked it up, and said to Chante-en-hiver who no longer stirred and was perhaps dead,—
"You see, woodsman, this is what I wanted, my sword or 'zut,' it is the same. I will take it out of friendship. But I must have my pistols. Devil take you, savage! Now what shall I do? I am no good here."
He groped along through the hall, trying to see and to get his bearings. Suddenly in the darkness, behind the central column, he made out a long table, and on this table something which shone indistinctly. He felt of it. They were blunderbusses, pistols, carbines, a row of firearms laid in order and seeming to be waiting for hands to lay hold of them; it was the reserve of weapons prepared by the besieged for the second phase of the assault; a perfect arsenal.
"A refreshment table!" exclaimed Radoub, and he pounced on them wildly.
Then he became terrible.
The door leading to the staircase communicating with the upper and lower stories was seen to be wide open beside the table loaded with arms. Radoub dropped his sword, seized a pistol in each hand and fired them together at random through the door into the stairway, then he seized a blunderbuss and discharged that, then he seized a musketoon loaded to the muzzle with buckshot, and discharged that. The musketoon, pouring forth fifteen bullets, seemed like a volley of grapeshot. Then Radoub, getting his breath, cried into the stairway in a thundering voice,—
"Long live Paris."
And seizing another musketoon larger than the first, he aimed it under the archway of the Saint-Gilles's staircase and waited.
The confusion in the lower hall was indescribable. Unexpected surpises like this demoralize resistance. Two of the bullets of Radoub's triple discharges had hit; one had killed the elder of the two brothers, Pique-en-bois, the other had killed Houzard, who was Monsieur de Quélen.
"They are upstairs!" cried the marquis.
This cry brought about the instant abandonment of the retirade; a flock of birds could not be scattered more quickly, and they each tried to rush first into the stairway. The marquis encouraged this flight.
"Be quick," he said. "It is courageous to escape now, let us all go up to the second story! there we will begin again."
He was the last to leave the retirade.
This bravery saved him.
Radoub, in ambush on the first landing of the staircase, his finger on the trigger of the blunderbuss was on the watch for the rout. Those who firstaround the corner received the discharge full in the face, and fell as if struck by lightning. If the marquis had been one of them he would have been killed.
Before Radoub had time to seize a new weapon, the rest passed by, the marquis last, and slower than the others. They believed the room on the first floor to be filled with the enemy; they did not stop there, but went on to the second story to the hall of mirrors. There was the iron door, the sulphur slow match was there, and there it would be necessary to capitulate or die.
Gauvain, as surprised as they were by the gunshots from the stairway and not being able to explain the assistance which had come to him, without trying to understand had taken advantage of it, had leaped with his men over the retirade, and drove the besieged at the point of the sword up to the first story.
There he found Radoub.
Radoub saluted him and said,—
"0ne minute, commander. It was I who did this. I remembered Dol. I did as you did. I put the enemy between two fires."
"A good pupil," said Gauvain, with a smile.
After being in the dark for some time one's eyes become accustomed to it, like those of night birds; Gauvain noticed that Radoub was covered with blood.
"But you are wounded, comrade."
"Never mind that, commander. What difference does it make, an ear more or less? I have a sword-cut too, but that is of no consequence. In breaking a pane of glass one always gets cut somewhat. But it is only a little of my blood."
They came to a sort of halt in the halt of the first story, taken by Radoub. A lantern was brought. Cimourdain rejoined Gauvain. They stopped to consider. It was indeed time to reflect. The besiegers were not in the secret of the besieged. They were ignorant of their lack of ammunition. They did not know that the defenders of the place were short of powder; the second story was the last post of resistance; the besiegers knew that the staircase might be mined.
One thing was certain, that the enemy could not escape. Those who were not dead were as good as under lock and key. Lantenac was in a trap.
With this certainty, they could take a little time to try to find out the best possible course to pursue. They already had many dead. It was necessary to try not to lose too many men in this last assault. There would probably be a tough outburst at first to quell.
The combat was interrupted. The besiegers, masters of the ground floor and of the next story were waiting for the general's order to go on. Gauvain and Cimourdain were holding counsel. Radoub listened in silence to their deliberation.
He ventured again to salute his general timidly,—
"What is it, Radoub?"
"Have I the right to a slight reward?"
"Certainly. Ask what you like."
"I should like to be the first to go up."
It was impossible to refuse him. Besides, he would have done it without permission.