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Red Velvet
by [?]

Before this we had put our horses in motion, to overtake the patrol (as I will call it) and break through to join our comrades. But here it was that our delay proved fatal. For turning at the sound of our gallop, and belike judging us to be the advance-guard of a second large body of horse, the leader of the patrol wheeled his men about, halted them for a moment, and so charged them straight down upon us. In numbers they were more than two to one, with the advantage of the slope, and albeit we fought fiercely for a minute, they broke us and drove us back headlong on the road. Nor did they stop here, but, having us on the run, headed us right down the road to the bridge.

Here, at the bridge-head, finding it unguarded, I managed to wheel about and beat off a couple of pursuers: and Israel Hutson and one of the troopers joining me, we three blocked the passage and could not be dislodged. For the bridge was extremely narrow; so narrow, indeed, that in either parapet the builders had provided an embrasure here and there, for the foot-traveller to step aside if he should meet a passing wagon.

The cavaliers, confronted by this remnant of us, and still perhaps believing that we counted on support, drew off some thirty yards, and were plainly in two minds whether to attack us again or to drop the business and ride back towards the trumpet-calls now sounding confusedly along the crest of the downs; when, to their and our worse dismay, was heard a pounding of hoofs on the road behind us, and over the bridge at our backs came riding a rabble of mounted men with a woman at their head–a woman dressed all in scarlet with a black flapping hat and a scarlet feather. What manner of woman she was I had no time to guess. But she rode with uplifted arm, grasping a pistol and waving the others forward; and her followers–who in no way resembled soldiers–poured after her, shouting, clearly bent on our destruction.

I had managed to recharge my two pistols; and now, thrusting one into my belt and grasping the other, with my sword dangling handy on a wrist-knot, I dismounted and slipped into the nearest embrasure, there to sell my life as dearly as might be. As I did so I heard, above the pounding of hoofs, five or six shots fired, and saw Hutson fling up his arms in the act of dismounting, fall his length across the roadway, and lie still under the feet of my own terrified horse. The trooper made a plunge forward as if to hurl himself through the patrol; and they, no doubt, disposed of him. I never saw him again.

For me, I faced upon the new assailants, as the spitting of bullets on the parapet directed me, and found little time to wonder what manner of people these were who so plainly intended to murder me. Some rode on cart-horses; one or two flourished pitchforks; and if ever a man had a sense of taking his leave of life in a nightmare it was I during that next minute. It seemed that a dozen were on me. I cannot remember letting off my second pistol; but for some time, with my back to the angle of the embrasure, I held my own with almost astonishing ease, and might have held it for many minutes–my opponents being more savage than skilful–had not one of them barbarously hurled his pitchfork at me as a man throws a spear. One point of it pierced and stuck in the upper muscles of my left arm; the other pricked pretty sharply upon a rib; and the pain of this double stroke forced me to drop my sword and make a snatch at the accursed missile, to pluck it out. ‘Twas the work of two seconds at most, and then with a jerk upon the wrist-knot I had the sword-hilt again in my grip; but it let three stout ruffians in upon me to finish me. And this they were setting about with a will when, as I beat up a stroke that threatened to cleave my skull, I heard a voice calling on them to hold, and the lady in scarlet forced her horse between us. As the brute’s shoulder pressed me back into the angle of my embrasure she held out her pistol at arm’s length, her finger on the trigger, and pointed it at close quarters full on my face.