BLTC Press Titles

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The Count of Monte Cristo

Alexandre Dumas

The Characters of Theophrastus


The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely

My experiences of the war between France and Germany

by Archibald Forbes


The night had passed in extreme quiet all along the frontier, and in the morning it seemed as if the 2nd was to be as monotonous as had been the 1st. General von Klepsal and another brigadier went on reconnoitring


expeditions, and came back again to a placid breakfast. A couple of guns with their detachments, part of the batteries that had arrived the previous night, went up the Saar to St. Arnual, and finding nothing threatening there, the officer brought them back. Two more, on their return, went out in the same direction, their functions appearing purely those of patrol. Two guns were leisurely got up on the height above the town at the Bellevue, and there remained. The soldiers in the barrack-yards, and in the several posts around the environs of the town, slept and smoked and gossiped, their arms stacked as usual; the officers sat under the trees drinking their Rhine wine, and the whole place seemed oppressed by the drowsy effect of a fervently hot day.

A little after ten, having crossed over the Saarbriick valley from the night's bivouac, I leisurely climbed the slope of the Bellevue height . There was no bustle on the road, and I saw nothing out of the common on our side as I reached the Exercise Platz at the top. But across the valley on the French side there was a sight to see. I use the terms " right" and "left" with reference to my position, looking across at the French, whether in speaking of their attack or of the German defence. On the left, then, of the bastion-like plateau, already mentioned more than once, there runs tortuously a fine road leading up Qiit of the valley intervening between the German and the French frontier positions. It conducts over the brow of the hill, skirting the right of a wood, and behind this wood and hill it had long been known that the French were located in force. Near the top this road throws out two branch roads, which both also lead down into the valley. One is a rough country road that skirts the right edge of the plateau; the other is a mere green track, of, however, some breadth, which crests the plateau, and tumbles off its edge down the abrupt poplar-clad slope that parts the upland from the valley.

Down all these three roads were streaming dense and glittering currents of French troops; the stream on the great road flowing swiftest and farthest. The sun struck on the bright bayonets, and threw out from the grey and green background the scarlet-legged infantrymen. Those came on in the true careless irregular French style, about six abreast, with hardly a pretence at formation, but with a speed that was remarkable. The moment that the head of the column touched the valley it broke like spray. As file after file reached a certain point it became dissipated; the men composing it extended at a run farther and farther, till by the time that the heads of all three columns were in the valley, an unbroken line of skirmishers was drawn several hundred yards to the front. Then began the steady deployment of company after company, battalion after battalion; and almost before one had realised the position, a long dense line had been ruled along the bottom of the valley behind the fainter line of the skirmishers. Squadrons of cavalry streamed down, and, forming line at a gallop, rapidly overtook the infantry. Passing through the intervals, they re-formed and pushed on to occupy and cover the flanks of the advance.

While this was going on in the valley the stream from behind the wood and the hill seemed to flow from a source that never would run dry. It was hardly a gap that was caused in it by the two batteries of field artillery that came down and wheeled off the road on to the verge of the plateau, the gunners unlimbering and standing ready by the venomous pieces that looked across at us with their wicked black mouths. Higher up on the crest there was visible another field battery, apparently of larger guns. In all, before I had to quit the heights, I am satisfied that from 6,000 to 7,000 French troops were in sight. The peculiarity of the movements I have just described was their perfect quietness and uninterruption. The French tirailleurs were already breasting the slope that led up to the positions held by the Germans; their main advance was more than half across the valley, and yet not a Chassepot gave tongue. The range must have been within 300 yards, and still the Frenchmen pressed on with lissom agility, but without a single shot. On the German side there existed as profound quietness; cither side seemed reluctant to begin the ball.

The German position demands a short explanation to aid in the comprehension of what took place. The height known indifferently as the Bellevue Height and the Exercise Platz is a natural rampart thrown up between Saarbriick and the frontier. It is depressed a little to the left of its centre, and the southern eminence is in its turn slightly cleft, the coll to the right being surmounted by a pleasure-garden and serrated with terraces. The lumpy hill on the left slopes more gently on the French side than on the German, and extends eastward so as to form a cover to the village of St. Arnual, lying about three miles nearer Saarguemines than Saarbriick. This height, or rather these series of heights, present tempting opportunities for taking up a strong defensive position. But they have two fatal defects. The frontier valley circumvents them both to the right near Schonecken and to the left a little beyond St. Arnual. Thus from either hand the heights may be turned, the valley of the Saar penetrated, and Saarbriick taken. Of this formation the French were evidently aware. They presently began to echelon their advance, and to bring up their left shoulders as if they meant sweeping round the height to the left, and pouring into the Saar valley vid St. Arnual. And it seemed as if the German disposition had anticipated this intention. The German force was indeed so weak that it was hopeless to attempt keeping the whole line; and, so far as it had been made available at all, the concentrations tended towards the defence of the St. Arnual gap. On the heights, then, when and for some time after the French made their appearance in the valley, there was hardly anything but the ordinary outposts and supporting detachments. I question, indeed, if there came any reinforcements at all on to the berg. What force there was extended itself in a thin line along the crest, taking advantage of a scooped-out road that traversed that direction. It was policy on its part to delay firing as long as possible, since the paucity of its fire would betray its weakness. And it was evident that, the French did not half like the berg, with what secrets there might be concealed behind it, but inclined rather to the St. Arnual direction, although cautious not to offer their flank towards the berg.

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