The Trumpet-Major HTML version

The Alarm
The night which followed was historic and memorable. Mrs. Loveday was awakened by
the boom of a distant gun: she told the miller, and they listened awhile. The sound was
not repeated, but such was the state of their feelings that Mr. Loveday went to Bob's
room and asked if he had heard it. Bob was wide awake, looking out of the window; he
had heard the ominous sound, and was inclined to investigate the matter. While the father
and son were dressing they fancied that a glare seemed to be rising in the sky in the
direction of the beacon hill. Not wishing to alarm Anne and her mother, the miller
assured them that Bob and himself were merely going out of doors to inquire into the
cause of the report, after which they plunged into the gloom together. A few steps'
progress opened up more of the sky, which, as they had thought, was indeed irradiated by
a lurid light; but whether it came from the beacon or from a more distant point they were
unable to clearly tell. They pushed on rapidly towards higher ground.
Their excitement was merely of a piece with that of all men at this critical juncture.
Everywhere expectation was at fever heat. For the last year or two only five-and-twenty
miles of shallow water had divided quiet English homesteads from an enemy's army of a
hundred and fifty thousand men. We had taken the matter lightly enough, eating and
drinking as in the days of Noe, and singing satires without end. We punned on
Buonaparte and his gunboats, chalked his effigy on stage-coaches, and published the
same in prints. Still, between these bursts of hilarity, it was sometimes recollected that
England was the only European country which had not succumbed to the mighty little
man who was less than human in feeling, and more than human in will; that our spirit for
resistance was greater than our strength; and that the Channel was often calm. Boats built
of wood which was greenly growing in its native forest three days before it was bent as
wales to their sides, were ridiculous enough; but they might be, after all, sufficient for a
single trip between two visible shores.
The English watched Buonaparte in these preparations, and Buonaparte watched the
English. At the distance of Boulogne details were lost, but we were impressed on fine
days by the novel sight of a huge army moving and twinkling like a school of mackerel
under the rays of the sun. The regular way of passing an afternoon in the coast towns was
to stroll up to the signal posts and chat with the lieutenant on duty there about the latest
inimical object seen at sea. About once a week there appeared in the newspapers either a
paragraph concerning some adventurous English gentleman who had sailed out in a
pleasure-boat till he lay near enough to Boulogne to see Buonaparte standing on the
heights among his marshals; or else some lines about a mysterious stranger with a foreign
accent, who, after collecting a vast deal of information on our resources, had hired a boat
at a southern port, and vanished with it towards France before his intention could be
In forecasting his grand venture, Buonaparte postulated the help of Providence to a
remarkable degree. Just at the hour when his troops were on board the flat-bottomed
boats and ready to sail, there was to be a great fog, that should spread a vast obscurity