Nearly 24,000 men advanced, with loud cries and the hoarse rolling of drums, in four masses: Durutte against Papelotte, Alix and Marcognet in front of Kempt and Pack, Donzelot upon the devoted Rifles in La Haye Sainte, the shock taking place about two o'clock, and lasting for more than an hour.
The long June day was drawing into evening, and shadows began to lengthen across the fields. Wellington, who had always been seen where the fire was hottest, rode with a calm, inscrutable face, followed by a sadly diminished staff, his eagle eye taking note of the strength and weakness of our line.
The Hussars had been moved in rear of the centre; and Adams' Brigade took position immediately behind the ridge. In front of the clover field where the 52nd stood in square, a pretty little tortoiseshell kitten, which had been frightened out of Hougoumont by the firing, lay dead -- a strange feature in the scene of destruction.
The men were growing accustomed to the hideous sights and sounds around them, and became impatient at the inactivity which doomed them to endure without reprisal. Suddenly the brass guns blazed forth once more upon us; the pas de charge was rolling from a thousand drums; a serried line was seen advancing along our entire front, and, led by the Emperor himself, on his grey charger Marie, his famous redingote gris open and showing the well-known dark-green chasseur coat, the Grenadiers of the Guard marched in solid columns into the valley.
Two winding serpents of determined men ten battalions in tall black bearskins, white facings and dark-blue pantaloons -- that was their dress at Waterloo -- with Friant and Morand, Petit, whom Napoleon had kissed at Fontainebleau, Poret de Morvan, and old Cambronne. The élite of the French army, the Grenadiers and Chasseurs of the Old and Middle Guard, marching sternly to victory or death. Marcognet, Alix, and Donzelot, with their remnants, against our reeling left; Reille, Foy, and Jérôme renewing on Hougoumont -- cavalry in the gaps and spaces -- a simultaneous, mighty LAST ATTACK!
The yet unbroken Imperial Guard set their faces towards the spot where Maitland's, Adams' and Byng's red-coats looked to their priming and closed their ranks had Napoleon hurled them against the cross road behind La Haye Sainte, the story of Waterloo had been written differently.
He missed his chance; he threw away his final hope. The greatest of his many mistakes was committed, and, handing over the leadership to Ney, he remained on a hillock above the farm, and watched the downfall of France and the death-blow of his empire! For the last time in this world their Emperor addressed them, pointing towards the heights with a gesture all could understand.
"Déployez les aigles. En avant! Vive l'Empereur!" and with a great shout they quickened their pace, passing proudly, unheeding, over the bodies of those comrades who had gone before.
Red tongues of flame burst from the smoke of our guns; whiz, came the fiery rockets, darting into their ranks, scorching, blinding, and burning in their course; humming shells dropped among them with terrible destruction; but the Old Guard pressed on, and began to mount the ridge.
Ney's horse fell -- the fifth killed under him that day, and the "bravest of the brave," went forward on foot. Alas, would that it had been to death!
Our Guards were lying down to avoid the hurricane from the French artillery. A shell dropped in one of the squares, and Colonel Colquitt, picking it up, fizzing and fuming, walked to the edge and flung it outside to burst harmlessly. Another officer, mortally wounded, said faintly:
"I should like to see the colours of the regiment again before I quit them for ever": they were brought and waved round his body, and with a smile, he was carried away, to die.