The Lion of the North by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVIII. Wounded
A controversy, which has never been cleared up, has long raged as to the death of Gustavus of Sweden; but the weight of evidence is strongly in favour of those who affirm that he received his fatal wound, that in the back, at the hand of Franz Albert of Lauenburg. The circumstantial evidence is, indeed, almost overwhelming. By birth the duke was the youngest of four sons of Franz II, Duke of Lauenburg. On his mother's side he was related to the Swedish royal family, and in his youth lived for some time at the court of Stockholm.
Owing to some impertinent remarks in reference to Gustavus he fell into disfavour with the queen, and had to leave Sweden. On attaining manhood he professed the Catholic faith, entered the Imperial army, obtained the command of a regiment, attached himself with much devotion to Wallenstein, and gained the confidence of that general. While the negotiations between the emperor and Wallenstein were pending Franz Albert was employed by the latter in endeavouring to bring about a secret understanding with the court of Dresden.
When Gustavus was blockaded in Nuremberg by Wallenstein Franz Albert left the camp of the latter and presented himself in that of Gustavus as a convert to the Reformed Religion and anxious to serve as a volunteer under him. No quarrel or disagreement had, so far as is known, taken place between him and Wallenstein, nor has any explanation ever been given for such an extraordinary change of sides, made, too, at a moment when it seemed that Gustavus was in a position almost desperate. By his profession of religious zeal he managed to win the king's heart, but Oxenstiern, when he saw him, entertained a profound distrust of him, and even warned the king against putting confidence in this sudden convert.
Gustavus, however, naturally frank and open in disposition, could not believe that treachery was intended, and continued to treat him with kindness. After the assault made by Gustavus upon Wallenstein's position Franz Albert quitted his camp, saying that he was desirous of raising some troops for his service in his father's territory. He rejoined him, however, with only his personal followers, on the very day before the battle of Lutzen, and was received by Gustavus with great cordiality, although the absence of his retainers increased the general doubts as to his sincerity.
He was by the king's side when Gustavus received his first wound. He was riding close behind him when the king received his second and fatal wound in the back, and the moment the king had fallen he rode away from the field, and it is asserted that it was he who brought the news of the king's death to Wallenstein.
Very soon after the battle he exchanged the Swedish service for the Saxon, and some eighteen months later he re-embraced the Roman Catholic faith and re-entered the Imperial army.
A stronger case of circumstantial evidence could hardly be put together, and it would certainly seem as if Lauenburg had entered the Swedish service with the intention of murdering the king. That he did not carry out his purpose during the attack on the Altenburg was perhaps due to the fact that Gustavus may not have been in such a position as to afford him an opportunity of doing so with safety to himself.
It is certainly curious that after that fight he should have absented himself, and only rejoined on the eve of the battle of Lutzen. The only piece of evidence in his favour is that of Truchsess, a chamberlain of the king, who, affirmed that he saw the fatal shot fired at a distance of ten paces from the king by an Imperial officer, Lieutenant General Falkenberg, who at once turned and fled, but was pursued and cut down by Luckau, master of horse of Franz Albert.
The general opinion of contemporary writers is certainly to the effect that the King of Sweden was murdered by Franz Albert; but the absolute facts must ever remain in doubt.
On the morning after the battle Wallenstein, having been joined by Pappenheim's infantry, sent a division of Croats back to the battlefield to take possession of it should they find that the Swedes had retired; but on their report that they still held the ground he retired at once from Leipzig, and, evacuating Saxony, marched into Bohemia, leaving the Swedes free to accomplish their junction with the army of the Elector, thus gaining the object for which they had fought at Lutzen.
After the death of the king, Malcolm Graheme, full of grief and rage at the loss of the monarch who was loved by all his troops, and had treated him with special kindness, joined the soldiers of Duke Bernhard, and took part in the charge which swept back the Imperialists and captured the cannon on the hill. At the very commencement of the struggle his horse fell dead under him, and he fought on foot among the Swedish infantry; but when the arrival of Pappenheim on the field enabled the Imperialists again to assume the offensive, Malcolm, having picked up a pike from the hands of a dead soldier, fought shoulder to shoulder in the ranks as the Swedes, contesting stubbornly every foot of the ground, were gradually driven back towards the road.
Suddenly a shot struck him; he reeled backwards a few feet, strove to steady himself and to level his pike, and then all consciousness left him, and he fell prostrate. Again and again, as the fortune of the desperate fray wavered one way or the other, did friend and foe pass over the place where he lay.
So thickly strewn was the field with dead that the combatants in their desperate struggle had long ceased to pick their way over the fallen, but trampled ruthlessly upon and over them as, hoarsely shouting their battle cry, they either pressed forward after the slowly retreating foe or with obstinate bravery strove to resist the charges of the enemy. When Malcolm recovered his consciousness all was still, save that here and there a faint moan was heard from others who like himself lay wounded on the battlefield. The night was intensely dark, and Malcolm's first sensation was that of bitter cold.
It was indeed freezing severely, and great numbers of the wounded who might otherwise have survived were frozen to death before morning; but a few, and among these were Malcolm, were saved by the frost. Although unconscious of the fact, he had been wounded in two places. The first ball had penetrated his breastpiece and had entered his body, and a few seconds later another ball had struck him in the arm. It was the first wound which had caused his insensibility; but from the second, which had severed one of the principal veins in the arm, he would have bled to death had it not been for the effects of the cold. For a time the life blood had flowed steadily away; but as the cold increased it froze and stiffened on his jerkin, and at last the wound was staunched.
It was none too soon, for before it ceased to flow Malcolm had lost a vast quantity of blood. It was hours before nature recovered from the drain. Gradually and slowly he awoke from his swoon. It was some time before he realized where he was and what had happened, then gradually his recollection of the fight returned to him.
"I remember now," he murmured to himself, "I was fighting with the Swedish infantry when a shot struck me in the body, I think, for I seemed to feel a sudden pain like a red hot iron. Who won the day, I wonder? How bitterly cold it is! I feel as if I were freezing to death."
So faint and stiff was he, partly from loss of blood, partly from being bruised from head to foot by being trampled on again and again as the ranks of the combatants swept over him, that it was some time before he was capable of making the slightest movement. His left arm was, he found, entirely useless; it was indeed firmly frozen to the ground; but after some difficulty he succeeded in moving his right, and felt for the flask which had hung from his girdle.
So frozen and stiff were his fingers that he was unable to unbuckle the strap which fastened it; but, drawing his dagger, he at last cut through this, and removing the stopper of the flask, took a long draught of the wine with which it was filled. The relief which it afforded him was almost instantaneous, and he seemed to feel life again coursing in his veins.
After a while he was sufficiently restored to be enabled to get from his havresack some bread and meat which he had placed there after finishing his breakfast on the previous morning. He ate a few mouthfuls, took another long draught of wine, and then felt that he could hope to hold on until morning. He was unable to rise even into a sitting position, nor would it have availed him had he been able to walk, for he knew not where the armies were lying, nor could he have proceeded a yard in any direction without falling over the bodies which so thickly strewed the ground around him.
Though in fact it wanted but two hours of daylight when he recovered consciousness, the time appeared interminable; but at last, to his delight, a faint gleam of light spread across the sky. Stronger and stronger did it become until the day was fairly broken. It was another hour before he heard voices approaching. Almost holding his breath he listened as they approached, and his heart gave a throb of delight as he heard that they were speaking in Swedish. A victory had been won, then, for had it not been so, it would have been the Imperialists, not the Swedes, who would have been searching the field of battle.
"There are but few alive," one voice said, "the cold has finished the work which the enemy began."
Malcolm, unable to rise, lifted his arm and held it erect to call the attention of the searchers; it was quickly observed.
"There is some one still alive," the soldier exclaimed, "an officer, too; by his scarf and feathers he belongs to the Green Brigade."
"These Scotchmen are as hard as iron," another voice said; "come, bring a stretcher along."
They were soon by the side of Malcolm.
"Drink this, sir," one said, kneeling beside him and placing a flask of spirits to his lips; "that will warm your blood, I warrant, and you must be well nigh frozen."
Malcolm took a few gulps at the potent liquor, then he had strength to say:
"There is something the matter with my left arm, I can't move it, and I think I am hit in the body."
"You are hit in the body, sure enough," the man said, "for there is a bullet hole through your cuirass, and your jerkin below it is all stained with blood. You have been hit in the left arm too, and the blood is frozen to the ground; but we will soon free that for you. But before trying to do that we will cut open the sleeve of your jerkin and bandage your arm, or the movement may set it off bleeding again, and you have lost a pool of blood already."
Very carefully the soldiers did their work, and then placing Malcolm on the stretcher carried him away to the camp. Here the surgeons were all hard at work attending to the wounded who were brought in. They had already been busy all night, as those whose hurts had not actually disabled them found their way into the camp. As he was a Scotch officer he was carried to the lines occupied by Colonel Henderson with his Scotch brigade. He was known to many of the officers personally, and no time was lost in attending to him. He was nearly unconscious again by the time that he reached the camp, for the movement had caused the wound in his body to break out afresh.
His armour was at once unbuckled, and his clothes having been cut the surgeons proceeded to examine his wounds. They shook their heads as they did so. Passing a probe into the wound they found that the ball, breaking one of the ribs in its course, had gone straight on. They turned him gently over.
"Here it is," the surgeon said, producing a flattened bullet. The missile indeed had passed right through the body and had flattened against the back piece, which its force was too far spent to penetrate.
"Is the case hopeless, doctor?" one of the officers who was looking on asked.
"It is well nigh hopeless," the doctor said, "but it is just possible that it has not touched any vital part. The lad is young, and I judge that he has not ruined his constitution, as most of you have done, by hard drinking, so that there is just a chance for him. There is nothing for me to do but to put a piece of lint over the two holes, bandage it firmly, and leave it to nature. Now let me look at his arm.
"Ah!" he went on as he examined the wound, "he has had a narrow escape here. The ball has cut a vein and missed the principal artery by an eighth of an inch. If that had been cut he would have bled to death in five minutes. Evidently the lad has luck on his side, and I begin to think we may save him if we can only keep him quiet."
At the earnest request of the surgeons tents were brought up and a hospital established on some rising ground near the field of battle for the serious cases among the wounded, and when the army marched away to join the Saxons at Leipzig a brigade was left encamped around the hospital.
Here for three weeks Malcolm lay between life and death. The quantity of blood he had lost was greatly in his favour, as it diminished the risk of inflammation, while his vigorous constitution and the life of fatigue and activity which he had led greatly strengthened his power. By a miracle the bullet in its passage had passed through without injuring any of the vital parts; and though his convalescence was slow it was steady, and even at the end of the first week the surgeons were able to pronounce a confident opinion that he would get over it.
But it was not until the end of the month that he was allowed to move from his recumbent position. A week later and he was able to sit up. On the following day, to his surprise, the Count of Mansfeld strode into his tent.
"Ah! my young friend," he exclaimed, "I am glad indeed to see you so far recovered. I came to Leipzig with the countess and my daughter; for Leipzig at present is the centre where all sorts of political combinations are seething as in a cooking pot. It is enough to make one sick of humanity and ashamed of one's country when one sees the greed which is displayed by every one, from the highest of the princes down to petty nobles who can scarce set twenty men in the field.
"Each and all are struggling to make terms by which he may better himself, and may add a province or an acre, as the case may be, to his patrimony at the expense of his neighbours. Truly I wonder that the noble Oxenstiern, who represents Sweden, does not call together the generals and troops of that country from all parts and march away northward, leaving these greedy princes and nobles to fight their own battles, and make the best terms they may with their Imperial master.
"But there, all that does not interest you at present; but I am so full of spleen and disgust that I could not help letting it out. We arrived there a week since, and of course one of our first inquiries was for you, and we heard to our grief that the Imperialists had shot one of their bullets through your body and another through your arm. This, of course, would have been sufficient for any ordinary carcass; but I knew my Scotchman, and was not surprised when they told me you were mending fast.
"I had speech yesterday with an officer who had ridden over from this camp, and he told me that the doctors said you were now convalescent, but would need repose and quiet for some time before you could again buckle on armour. The countess, when I told her, said at once, 'Then we will take him away back with us to Mansfeld.' Thekla clapped her hands and said, `That will be capital! we will look after him, and he shall tell us stories about the wars.'
"So the thing was settled at once. I have brought over with me a horse litter, and have seen your surgeon, who says that although it will be some weeks before you can sit on a horse without the risk of your wound bursting out internally, there is no objection to your progression in a litter by easy stages; so that is settled, and the doctor will write to your colonel saying that it will be some months before you are fit for duty, and that he has therefore ordered you change and quiet.
"You need not be afraid of neglecting your duty or of getting out of the way of risking your life in harebrained ventures, for there will be no fighting till the spring. Everyone is negotiating at present, and you will be back with your regiment before fighting begins again. Well, what do you say?"
"I thank you, indeed," Malcolm replied. "It will of all things be the most pleasant; the doctor has told me that I shall not be fit for duty until the spring, and I have been wondering how ever I should be able to pass the time until then."
"Then we will be off without a minute's delay," the count said. "I sent off the litter last night and started myself at daybreak, promising the countess to be back with you ere nightfall, so we have no time to lose."
The news soon spread that Malcolm Graheme was about to leave the camp, and many of the Scottish officers came in to say adieu to him; but time pressed, and half an hour after the arrival of the count he started for Leipzig with Malcolm in a litter swung between two horses. As they travelled at a foot pace Malcolm did not find the journey uneasy, but the fresh air and motion soon made him drowsy, and he was fast asleep before he had left the camp an hour, and did not awake until the sound of the horses' hoofs on stone pavements told him that they were entering the town of Leipzig.
A few minutes later he was lying on a couch in the comfortable apartments occupied by the count, while the countess with her own hands was administering refreshments to him, and Thekla was looking timidly on, scarce able to believe that this pale and helpless invalid was the stalwart young Scottish soldier of whose adventures she was never weary of talking.