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The Soldier of the Light Infantry

or, The Chasseur

(1876)

From Military Sketches

Translated by Laura E. Kendall

He does not walk; he runs; he is truly the soldier of his age—an age of steam. He comes from Vincennes to Paris in thirty-five minutes; it takes a first class fiacre just twice as long.

The light infantry has given abundant proofs of courage. It was in Africa, in 1842, that it received the baptism of fire, a glorious baptism.

From the very first the chasseurs inspired the Arabs with unconquerable terror. It is true that everything combines to give them a frightful appearance in battle; their somber costume, their strange evolutions, the shrill sound of their trumpets, make them resemble, seen in the midst of the smoke, a legion of unchained devils.

When the Arabs saw them advancing on the run they took flight.

The chasseurs have a terrible weapon. Their rifles, which are loaded with oblong balls, pierce a board fifty millimeters in thickness at a distance of more than a quarter of a mile; and as all the chasseurs are excellent marksmen, they make frightful havoc in the enemy's ranks.

It is amusing to see the profound astonishment of the Arabs wounded at such a distance. They believe there is some witchcraft about it.

At Sebastopol, the corps of volunteer sharp-shooters was recruited from the ranks of the chasseurs. Creeping along, hiding in the slightest furrow of ground, they generally succeed in approaching within range of the battery, and then woe to its defenders! The cannons were soon reduced to silence.

It is impossible for any one who has not witnessed the maneuvers of the light infantry to have any conception of the marvels resulting from discipline and daily practice.

Their ordinary gait is a rapid walk, their accelerated pace is the speed of a race-horse. At a blast from the trumpet they disperse in every direction, disappearing, kneeling, lying flat on their bellies or on their backs, loading their rifles, aiming and firing in every conceivable posture. Another signal is heard; instantly they are in the ranks, crowded close together, bayonets glittering, ready to charge.

And an impetuous charge by the chasseurs of Vincennes is irresistible. Dense as the mass may be upon which they precipitate themselves, they cut their way through it with their broad saber-bayonets, leaving a bloody trail behind them.

"They are demons!" Prince Mentchikoff exclaimed at Sebastopol.

The chasseurs are very proud of their reputation for swiftness. Once when an order of the day was read to them beginning thus:

"Soldiers: we are about to march upon the enemy."—they cried: "Oh, no, that does not suit us, we wish to run."

When off duty the chasseur preserves his rapid pace, and his ferocious, almost tigerish manner. His hat is always cocked defiantly on one side of his head, and his belt is always inordinately tight.

Quick and supple in every movement, he adores dancing. It is his forte, and in it he wins a success that the Parisian fireman alone can dispute with him. Naturally, the belles adore this perfect dancer; but they should not trust him—the chasseur is even more inconstant than that heartless butterfly, the voltigeur.

In Paris he haunts the shades of Vincennes and Saint Maudé. Monday, Thursday, and Sunday he can always be found at the public balls, near the Barrière du Trône, happy if permission to be absent until midnight enables him to remain until the close of the festivities. He invariably finds a brother chasseur who is also absent on leave, and who shares several bottles of sour wine with him.


But it would be unjust not to say a word concerning the trumpeter of the chasseurs.

How the chasseur, laden with his knapsack, rations, weapons, ammunition, and accouterments can run without losing his breath completely, it is difficult to comprehend.

But how does the trumpeter, as he runs with the others, find breath to blow his trumpet?

That is something one can not comprehend.


THE END.


Emile Gaboriau