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Red Velvet
by [?]

Now from this bridge of Respryn a highway climbs from the valley and runs due east across the downs; that is to say, straight athwart the track we were holding; and our orders were on no account to cross this highway, but to halt at some little distance on the near side of it, place ourselves in cover, and so await the signal. For the enemy held it–we could spy a couple of their camp-fires on the rise where it crosses Five Barrow Hill, with a third somewhat nearer, by the cross lanes called Grey Mare–and it would assuredly be patrolled. If in attempting to cross it we fell foul of the patrol, the alarm might draw their troops down towards the bridge; and again, if we crossed it without mishap, we should be no better placed and might easily overshoot our mark, for somewhere alongside this road our general would direct his retreat, over the heather and short turf that stretched for miles ahead and for a mile or more on either hand–fair open country and for cavalry the best in the world.

Accordingly we found cover in a belt of fir-trees overlooking the valley, and for a while possessed our souls in patience. We were early, having come without mishap or challenge, and to expect a like speed of two thousand five hundred men–riding in thick fog through water-meadows, with ditches to be crossed and gates to be found and passed–was in the last degree unreasonable. Nevertheless, dawn could not be far off, and as the minutes dragged by, my spirits sank and my thoughts ran on a score of possible disasters.

By-and-by the sky began to pale. We heard a small troop of horsemen coming down the road at a walk–a patrol perhaps, or perhaps they were riding down to relieve the guard by the bridge. We listened and made out their number to be twenty or thereabouts. The wind had shifted–another good reason for keeping on our side of the road–and blew from them to us; but our horses were well trained. The troop drew level with our hiding; we could hear the jingling of their bits, and with that came our signal. A couple of pistol shots rang out; they made every man of us start in his saddle, and they were followed by a volley.

In my surprise I had dug spur and pushed out beyond our clump of firs, almost before it struck me that the sound came not from the valley but from ahead of us, across the road and some way up the slope. My first motion had been to charge the troopers in the roadway, to drive them (or at least to check them) from helping at the bridge; and I had done more wisely by holding to it, even upon second thought, for they had wheeled towards the sound and so gave their backs to us. While they stood thus we might have charged through them, and all had been well.

As it was, they offered us this chance for a moment only; and then, striking spur, scrambled up the bank on the far side of the road and headed across the turf at a gallop. We looked, and slowly we understood. For half a mile away, up the rise of the downs, a broad dark shadow was moving; and we had scarcely discerned it before, in the pale of the dawn, small points of light wavered and broke upon morions, gorgets, cuirasses. That moving shadow was our own main body, climbing the hill at a gentle trot.

A few picketers hung on their rear. It was these, of course, that had given the alarm: and by-and-by the trumpets taking it up on Five Barrow Hill, a body of four hundred horse came over the rise at a gallop and bore down obliquely on the mass–very confidently at first: but at closer quarters it lost heart and started off to harass the right flank of the solid mass, that paid it little attention and held on its way without swerving.