A Disobedient Soldier by David Ker
"Now, lads, there's the battery; remember the Emperor himself is
watching you, and carry it in true French style. The moment you get into
it, make yourselves fast against attack; and mind that any man who comes
out again to pick up the wounded, even though I myself should be among
them, shall be tried for disobedience as soon as the battle's over."
So spoke Colonel Lasalle to his French grenadiers just before the final
charge that decided the battle of Wagram. Then he waved his sword, and
shouted, "En avant!"
Forward swept the grenadiers like a torrent, with the shout which the
Austrians opposed to them already knew to their cost. Through blinding
smoke and pelting shot they rushed headlong on, with mouths parched,
faces burning, and teeth set like a vise. Ever and anon a red flash rent
the murky cloud around them, and the cannon-shot came tearing through
their ranks, mowing them down like grass. But not a man flinched, for
the same thought was in every mind, that they were fighting under the
eye of their "Little Corporal," as they affectionately called the
Suddenly the smoke parted, and right in front of them appeared the dark
muzzles of cannon, and the white uniforms of Austrian soldiers. One last
shout, which rose high above all the roar of the battle, the bayonets
went glittering over the breastwork like the spray of a breaking wave,
and the battery was won.
"Where's the Colonel?" cried a voice, suddenly.
There was no answer. The handful of men that remained of the doomed band
looked meaningly at each other, but no one spoke. Strict disciplinarian
as he was, seldom passing a day without punishing some one, the old
Colonel had nevertheless won his men's hearts completely by his reckless
courage in battle; and every man in the regiment would gladly have
risked his life to save that of "the old growler," as they called him.
But if he were not with them, where was he? Outside the battery the
whole ground was scourged into flying jets of dust by a storm of bullets
from the fight that was still raging on the left. In such a cross-fire
it seemed as if nothing living could escape, and if he had fallen
there, there was but little hope for him.
"I see him!" cried a tall grenadier. "He's lying out yonder, and
alive, too, for I saw him wave his hand just now. I'll have him here in
five minutes, boys, or be left there beside him."
"But you mustn't disobey orders, Dubois," said a young Captain (now the
oldest surviving officer, so terrible had been the havoc), hoping by
this means to stop the reckless man from rushing upon certain death.
"Remember what the Colonel told you—that even if he were left among
the wounded, no one must go out to pick them up."
"I can't help that," answered the soldier, laying down his musket and
tightening the straps of his cross-belts. "Captain, report Private
Dubois for insubordination and breach of discipline. I'm going out to
bring in the Colonel."
And he stepped forth unflinchingly into the deadly space beyond.
They saw him approach the spot where the Colonel lay; they saw him bend
over the fallen man, shielding him from the shot with his own body. Then
he was seen to stagger suddenly, as if from a blow; but the next moment
he had the Colonel in his arms, and was struggling back over the
shot-torn ground, through the dying and the dead. Twice he stopped
short, as if unable to go farther; but on he came again, and had just
laid his officer gently down inside the battery, when, with his
comrades' shout of welcome still ringing in his ears, he fell fainting
to the earth, covered with blood.
By the next morning Colonel Lasalle had recovered sufficiently to amaze
the whole regiment by putting under arrest the man who had saved his
life; but the moment it was done, the Colonel mounted his horse, and
rode off to head-quarters at full gallop. In about an hour he was seen
coming back again, side by side with a short, square-built man in a gray
coat and cocked hat, at sight of whom the soldiers burst into deafening
cheers, for he was no other than the Emperor Napoleon.
"Let me see this fellow," said Napoleon, sternly; and two grenadiers led
forward Pierre Dubois, so weak from his wounds that he could hardly
"So, fellow, thou hast dared to disobey orders, ha?" cried the Emperor,
in his harshest tones.
"I have, sire. And if it were to be done again, I'd do it."
"And what if we were to shoot thee for insubordination?"
"My life is your Majesty's, now as always," answered the grenadier,
boldly. "And if I must choose between dying myself and leaving my
Colonel to die, the old regiment can better spare a common fellow like
me than a brave officer like him."
A sudden spasm shook the old Colonel's iron face as he listened, and
even Napoleon's stern gray eyes softened as few men had ever seen them
"Thou'rt wrong there," said he, "for I would not give a 'common fellow'
of thy sort for twenty Colonels, were every one of them as good as my
old Lasalle here. Take this, Sergeant Dubois"—and he fastened his own
cross of the Legion of Honor to Pierre's breast. "I warrant me thou'lt
be a Colonel thyself one of these days."
And sure enough, five years later, Pierre Dubois was not only a Colonel,
but a General.