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Full Online Book HomePlaysThe Dynasts: An Epic Drama Of The War With Napoleon - Part 3 - Act 7 - Scene 4. The Field Of Waterloo. The English Position
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The Dynasts: An Epic Drama Of The War With Napoleon - Part 3 - Act 7 - Scene 4. The Field Of Waterloo. The English Position Post by :Bigdogs Category :Plays Author :Thomas Hardy Date :May 2012 Read :2827

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The Dynasts: An Epic Drama Of The War With Napoleon - Part 3 - Act 7 - Scene 4. The Field Of Waterloo. The English Position

PART THIRD. ACT SEVENTH. SCENE IV.

(WELLINGTON, on Copenhagen, is again under the elm-tree behind La Haye Sainte. Both horse and rider are covered with mud-splashes, but the weather having grown finer the DUKE has taken off his cloak.

UXBRIDGE, FITZROY SOMERSET, CLINTON, ALTEN, COLVILLE, DE LANCEY, HERVEY, GORDON, and other of his staff officers and aides are near him; there being also present GENERALS MUFFLING, HUGEL, and ALAVA; also TYLER, PICTON'S aide. The roar of battle continues.)


WELLINGTON

I am grieved at losing Picton; more than grieved.
He was as grim a devil as ever lived,
And roughish-mouthed withal. But never a man
More stout in fight, more stoical in blame!


TYLER

Before he left for this campaign he said,
"When you shall hear of MY death, mark my words,
You'll hear of a bloody day!" and, on my soul,
'Tis true.

(Enter another aide-de-camp.)


AIDE

Sir William Ponsonby, my lords, has fallen.
His horse got mud-stuck in a new-plowed plot,
Lancers surrounded him and bore him down,
And six then ran him through. The occasion sprung
Mainly from the Brigade's too reckless rush,
Sheer to the French front line.


WELLINGTON (gravely)

Ah--so it comes!
The Greys were bound to pay--'tis always so--
Full dearly for their dash so far afield.
Valour unballasted but lands its freight
On the enemy's shore.--What has become of Hill?


AIDE

We have not seen him latterly, your Grace.


WELLINGTON

By God, I hope I haven't lost him, too?


BRIDGMAN (just come up)

Lord Hill's bay charger, being shot dead, your Grace,
Rolled over him in falling. He is bruised,
But hopes to be in place again betimes.


WELLINGTON

Praise Fate for thinking better of that frown!

(It is now nearing four o'clock. La Haye Sainte is devastated by the second attack of NEY. The farm has been enveloped by DONZELOT'S division, its garrison, the King's German Legion, having fought till all ammunition was exhausted. The gates are forced open, and in the retreat of the late defenders to the main Allied line they are nearly all cut or shot down.)


SPIRIT OF THE PITIES

O Farm of sad vicissitudes and strange!
Farm of the Holy Hedge, yet fool of change!
Whence lit so sanct a name on thy now violate grange?


WELLINGTON (to Muffling, resolutely)

Despite their fierce advantage here, I swear
By every God that war can call upon
To hold our present place at any cost,
Until your force cooperate with our lines!
To that I stand; although 'tis bruited now
That Bulow's corps has only reached Ohain.
I've sent Freemantle hence to seek them there,
And give them inkling we shall need them soon.


MUFFLING (looking at his watch)

I had hoped that Blucher would be here ere this.

(The staff turn their glasses on the French position.)


UXBRIDGE

What movement can it be they contemplate?


WELLINGTON

A shock of cavalry on the hottest scale,
It seems to me. . . . (To aide) Bid him to reinforce
The front line with some second-line brigades;
Some, too, from the reserve.

(The Brunswickers advance to support MAITLAND'S Guards, and the MITCHELL and ADAM Brigades establish themselves above Hougomont, which is still in flames.

NEY, in continuation of the plan of throwing his whole force on the British centre before the advent of the Prussians, now intensifies his onslaught with the cavalry. Terrific discharges of artillery initiate it to clear the ground. A heavy round- shot dashes through the tree over the heads of WELLINGTON and his generals, and boughs and leaves come flying down on them.)


WELLINGTON

Good practice that! I vow they did not fire
So dexterously in Spain. (He calls up an aide.) Bid Ompteda
Direct the infantry to lie tight down
On the reverse ridge-slope, to screen themselves
While these close shots and shells are teasing us;
When the charge comes they'll cease.

(The order is carried out. NEY'S cavalry attack now matures. MILHAUD'S cuirassiers in twenty-four squadrons advance down the opposite decline, followed and supported by seven squadrons of chasseurs under DESNOETTES. They disappear for a minute in the hollow between the armies.)


UXBRIDGE

Ah--now we have got their long-brewed plot explained!


WELLINGTON (nodding)

That this was rigged for some picked time to-day
I had inferred. But that it would be risked
Sheer on our lines, while still they stand unswayed,
In conscious battle-trim, I reckoned not.
It looks a madman's cruel enterprise!


FITZROY SOMERSET

We have just heard that Ney embarked on it
Without an order, ere its aptness riped.


WELLINGTON

It may be so: he's rash. And yet I doubt.
I know Napoleon. If the onset fail
It will be Ney's; if it succeed he'll claim it!

(A dull reverberation of the tread of innumerable hoofs comes from behind the hill, and the foremost troops rise into view.)


SPIRIT OF THE PITIES

Behold the gorgeous coming of those horse,
Accoutered in kaleidoscopic hues
That would persuade us war has beauty in it!--
Discern the troopers' mien; each with the air
Of one who is himself a tragedy:
The cuirassiers, steeled, mirroring the day;
Red lancers, green chasseurs: behind the blue
The red; the red before the green:
A lingering-on till late in Christendom,
Of the barbaric trick to terrorize
The foe by aspect!

(WELLINGTON directs his glass to an officer in a rich uniform with many decorations on his breast, who rides near the front of the approaching squadrons. The DUKE'S face expresses admiration.)


WELLINGTON

It's Marshal Ney himself who heads the charge.
The finest cavalry commander, he,
That wears a foreign plume; ay, probably
The whole world through!


SPIRIT IRONIC

And when that matchless chief
Sentenced shall lie to ignominious death
But technically deserved, no finger he
Who speaks will lift to save him.!


SPIRIT OF THE PITIES

To his shame.
We must discount war's generous impulses
I sadly see.


SPIRIT OF THE YEARS

Be mute, and let spin on
This whirlwind of the Will!

(As NEY'S cavalry ascends the English position the swish of the horses' breasts through the standing corn can be heard, and the reverberation of hoofs increases in strength. The English gunners stand with their portfires ready, which are seen glowing luridly in the daylight. There is comparative silence.)


A VOICE

Now, captains, are you loaded?


CAPTAINS

Yes, my lord.


VOICE

Point carefully, and wait till their whole height Shows above the ridge.

(When the squadrons rise in full view, within sixty yards of the cannon-mouths, the batteries fire, with a concussion that shakes the hill itself. Their shot punch holes through the front ranks of the cuirassiers, and horse and riders fall in heaps. But they are not stopped, hardly checked, galloping up to the mouths of the guns, passing between the pieces, and plunging among the Allied infantry behind the ridge, who, with the advance of the horsemen, have sprung up from their prone position and formed into squares.)


SPIRIT OF RUMOUR

Ney guides the fore-front of the carabineers
Through charge and charge, with rapid recklessness.
Horses, cuirasses, sabres, helmets, men,
Impinge confusedly on the pointed prongs
Of the English kneeling there, whose dim red shapes
Behind their slanted steel seem trampled flat
And sworded to the sward. The charge recedes,
And lo, the tough lines rank there as before,
Save that they are shrunken.


SPIRIT OF THE PITIES

Hero of heroes, too,
Ney, (not forgetting those who gird against him).--
Simple and single-souled lieutenant he;
Why should men's many-valued motions take
So barbarous a groove!

(The cuirassiers and lancers surge round the English and Allied squares like waves, striking furiously on them and well-nigh breaking them. They stand in dogged silence amid the French cheers.)


WELLINGTON (to the nearest square)

Hard pounding this, my men! I truly trust
You'll pound the longest!


SQUARE

Hip-hip-hip-hurrah!


MUFFLING (again referring to his watch)

However firmly they may stand, in faith,
Their firmness must have bounds to it, because
There are bounds to human strength! . . . Your, Grace,
To leftward now, to spirit Zieten on.


WELLINGTON

Good. It is time! I think he well be late,
However, in the field.

(MUFFLING goes. Enter an aide, breathless.)


AIDE

Your Grace, the Ninety-fifth are patience-spent
With standing under fire so passing long.
They writhe to charge--or anything but stand!


WELLINGTON

Not yet. They shall have at 'em later on.
At present keep them firm.

(Exit aide. The Allied squares stand like little red-brick castles, independent of each other, and motionless except at the dry hurried command "Close up!" repeated every now and then as they are slowly thinned. On the other hand, under their firing and bayonets a disorder becomes apparent among the charging horse, on whose cuirasses the bullets snap like stones on window-panes. At this the Allied cavalry waiting in the rear advance; and by degrees they deliver the squares from their enemies, who are withdrawn to their own position to prepare for a still more strenuous assault. The point of view shifts.)

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