The Lion of the North by G. A. Henty
Chapter XXIII. The Murder of Wallenstein
Malcolm hurried back to his lodging, where he was received with a cry of delight from Thekla, who had passed the time since he had left her on her knees praying for his safety. He told her at once that she was about to be restored to safety among friends, that her troubles were at an end, and she was again to resume her proper garments which she had brought with her in the basket containing his tools at the time of her flight.
A few minutes sufficed to make the change, and then she accompanied Malcolm to the castle. Wallenstein's orders had been rapidly carried out; a squadron of cavalry were formed up in the courtyard. and in front of them an attendant held a horse with a pillion behind the saddle. Malcolm lifted Thekla on to the pillion and sprang into the saddle in front of her. One of Wallenstein's household handed a letter to him and then gave him into the charge of the officer commanding the squadron, who had already received his orders. The officer at once gave the word and rode from the castle followed by the cavalry.
As soon as they were out of the town the pace was quickened, and the cavalcade proceeded at a trot which was kept up with few intermissions until nightfall, by which time twenty miles had been covered. They halted for the night in a small town where the soldiers were billeted on the inhabitants, comfortable apartments being assigned to Malcolm and his charge.
Soon after daybreak the journey was continued. A sharp watch was now kept up, as at any moment parties of the Swedish cavalry making a raid far in advance of their lines might be met with. No such adventure happened, and late in the afternoon the troop halted on the crest of a low hill.
"Here," the officer said, "we part. That town which you see across the river is held by the Swedes, and you will certainly meet with no molestation from any of our side as you ride down to it."
Malcolm thanked the officer for the courtesy he had shown him on the journey, and then rode forward towards the town. It was getting dusk as he neared the bridge, but as he came close Malcolm's heart gave a bound as he recognized the green scarves and plumes worn by the sentries at the bridge. These seeing only a single horseman with a female behind him did not attempt to question him as he passed; but he reined in his horse.
"Whose regiment do you belong to?" he asked.
The men looked up in surprise at being addressed in their own language by one whose attire was that of a simple craftsman, but whom they now saw rode a horse of great strength and beauty.
"We belong to Hamilton's regiment," they replied.
"And where shall I find that of Munro?"
"It is lying in quarters fifteen miles away," one of the soldiers answered.
"Then we cannot get on there tonight," Malcolm said. "Where are your officers quartered?"
A soldier standing near at once volunteered to act as guide, and in a few minutes Malcolm arrived at the house occupied by them. He was of course personally known to all the officers, and as soon as their surprise at his disguise and at seeing him accompanied by a young lady had subsided, they received him most heartily.
Thekla was at once taken to the house of the burgomaster, which was close at hand, and handed over to the wife of that functionary for the night, and Malcolm spent a merry evening with the Scottish officers, to whom he related the adventures which had so satisfactorily terminated -- making, however, no allusion to the political secrets which he had discovered or the mission with which he was charged. He was soon furnished from the wardrobes of the officers with a suit of clothes, and although his craftsman attire had served him well he was glad to don again the uniform of the Scottish brigade.
"You have cut your narrative strangely short at the end, Graheme," Colonel Hamilton said when Malcolm brought his story to a conclusion. "How did you get away from Pilsen at last, and from whom did you steal that splendid charger on whom you rode up to the door?"
"That is not my own secret, colonel, and I can only tell you at present that Wallenstein himself gave it to me."
A roar of incredulous laughter broke from the officers round the table.
"A likely story indeed, Graheme; the duke was so fascinated with your talents as a watchmaker that he bestowed a charger fit for his own riding upon you to carry you across into our lines."
"It does not sound likely, I grant you," Malcolm said, "but it is true, as you will acknowledge when the time comes that there will be no longer any occasion for me to keep the circumstances secret. I only repeat, Wallenstein gave me the honour of an escort which conducted me to the crest of the hill two miles away, where, if your sentries and outposts had been keeping their eyes open, they might have seen them."
It was late before the party broke up, but soon after daylight Malcolm was again in the saddle, and with Thekla as before on the pillion he continued his journey, and in three hours reached the town where his regiment was quartered.
Alighting at the door of the colonel's quarters, he led Thekla to his apartments. The colonel received him with the greatest cordiality and welcomed Thekla with a kindness which soon put her at her ease, for now that the danger was past she was beginning to feel keenly the strangeness of her position.
She remembered Colonel Munro perfectly, as he and the other officers of the regiment had been frequently at her father's during the stay of the regiment at Maintz. The colonel placed her at once in charge of the wife of one of the principal citizens, who upon hearing that she was the daughter of the Count of Mansfeld, well known for his attachment to the Protestant cause, willingly received her, and offered to retain her as her guest until an opportunity should occur for sending her on to Nuremberg, should Malcolm not be able at once to continue his journey to that city.
"That," Colonel Munro said as soon as Malcolm informed him of the extremely important information he had gained, "is out of the question. Your news is of supreme importance, it alters the whole course of events, and offers hopes of an early termination of the struggle. There is no doubt that Wallenstein is in earnest now, for he has committed himself beyond reparation. The only question is whether he can carry the army with him. However, it is clear that you must ride with all haste to Oxenstiern with your tidings; not a moment must be lost. He is in the Palatinate, and it will take you four days of hard riding at the least to reach him.
"In the meantime, your little maid, who by the way is already nearly a woman, had best remain here -- I will see that she is comfortable and well cared for, and after all she is as well here as at Nuremberg, as there is no fear now of an advance of the Imperialists. In case of anything extraordinary occurring which might render this town an unsafe abiding place, I will forward her in safety to Nuremberg, even I if I have to detach a score of my men as her escort."
Before mounting again Malcolm paid a hurried visit to Thekla, who expressed her contentment with her new abode, and her readiness to stay there until he should return to take her to Nuremberg, even should it be weeks before he could do so.
"I quite feel among friends now," she said, "and Colonel Munro and your Scotch officers will, I am sure, take good care of me till you return."
Glad to feel that his charge was left in good hands Malcolm mounted his horse with a light heart and galloped away. Four days later he was closeted with the Swedish chancellor, and relating to him the scene in the castle at Pilsen. When he had finished his narrative Oxenstiern, who had, before Malcolm began, read the letter which Wallenstein had sent him, said:
"After what you tell me there can be no longer the slightest doubts of Wallenstein's intention. Ever since the death of the king he has been negotiating privately with me, but I could not believe that he was in earnest or that such monstrous treachery was possible. How could I suppose that he who has been raised from the rank of a simple gentleman to that of a duke and prince, and who, save the fortunes which he obtained with his wives, owes everything to the bounty of the emperor, could be preparing to turn his arms against him?"
"It is true that he has done great things for Ferdinand, but his ambition is even greater than his military talent. Any other man would have been content with the enormous possessions and splendid dignity which he has attained, and which in fact render him far richer than his Imperial master; but to be a prince does not suffice for him. He has been promised a kingdom, but even that is insufficient for his ambition. It is clear that he aims to dethrone the emperor and to set himself up in his place; however, his ingratitude does not concern me, it suffices now that at any rate he is sincere, and that a happy issue out of the struggle opens before us henceforth.
"I can trust him thoroughly; but though he has the will to join us has he the power? Wallenstein, with his generals and his army fighting for the emperor, is a mighty personage, but Wallenstein a rebel is another altogether. By what you tell me it seems more than doubtful whether his officers will follow him; and although his army is attached to him, and might follow him could he put himself at its head, it is scattered in its cantonments, and each section will obey the orders which the general in its command may give.
"Probably some of those who signed the document, pledging their fidelity to Wallenstein, have already sent news to the emperor of what is being done. It is a strange situation and needs great care; the elements are all uncertain. Wallenstein writes to me as if he were assured of the allegiance of the whole of his army, and speaks unquestionably of his power to overthrow the emperor; but the man is clearly blinded by his ambition and infatuated by his fixed belief in the stars. However, one thing is certain, he and as much of his army as he can hold in hand are now our allies, and I must lose no time in moving such troops as are most easily disposable to his assistance.
"I will send to Saxony and urge the elector to put in motion a force to support him, and Duke Bernhard shall move with a division of our troops. I will at once pen a despatch to Wallenstein, accepting his alliance and promising him active aid as soon as possible.
"What say you, young sir? You have shown the greatest circumspection and ability in this affair. Will you undertake to carry my despatch? You must not travel as a Scottish officer, for if there are any traitors among the officers of Wallenstein they will assuredly endeavour to intercept any despatches which may be passing between us in order to send them to the emperor as proofs of the duke's guilt."
"I will undertake the task willingly, sir," Malcolm replied, "and doubt not that I shall be able to penetrate to him in the same disguise which I before wore. When I once reach him is your wish that I should remain near him, or that I should at once return?"
"It were best that you should remain for a time," the chancellor said. "You may be able to send me news from time to time of what is passing around the duke. Before you start, you shall be supplied with an ample amount of money to pay messengers to bring your reports to me. Wallenstein hardly appears to see the danger of his situation; but you will be more clear sighted. It is a strange drama which is being played, and may well terminate in a tragedy. At any rate the next month will decide what is to come of these strange combinations."
The horse on which Malcolm had ridden was knocked up from the speed at which he had travelled, and, ordering it to be carefully tended till his return, he obtained a fresh horse and again set out. He made the journey at the same speed at which he had before passed over the ground, and paused for a few hours only at Amberg, where he found Thekla well and comfortable, and quite recovered from the effects of her journeys and anxiety. She received him with delight; but her joy was dashed when she found that, instead of returning to remain with his regiment, as she had hoped, he was only passing through on another mission.
At Amberg he again laid aside his uniform and donned his costume as a craftsman. Colonel Munro gave him an escort of twenty troopers; with these he crossed the river at nightfall, and, making a detour to avoid the Imperialist outposts, rode some fifteen miles on his way. He then dismounted and handed over his horse to his escort, who at once started on their way back to Amberg, while he pursued his journey on foot towards Pilsen. It was late the next evening before he reached the town; and on arriving he learned that Wallenstein was still there.
The Imperialist general, immediately upon obtaining the signature of his officers, had sent to urge Altringer and Gallas, who had been absent from the meeting, to come to him with all speed. Altringer, on pretence of sickness, did not comply with the invitation. Gallas made his appearance, but merely with the intention of finding out all Wallenstein's plans and of keeping the emperor informed of them. Piccolomini had, immediately the meeting broke up, sent full details of its proceedings to the court, and Gallas was furnished with a secret commission containing the emperor's orders to the colonels and officers, granting an amnesty for their adhesion to Wallenstein at Pilsen, and ordering them to make known to the army that it was released from its obedience to Wallenstein, and was placed under the command of Gallas himself, who received orders, if possible, to arrest Wallenstein.
Gallas on his arrival perceived the impossibility of executing his commission, for Wallenstein's troops and officers were devoted to him, and not even the crime of high treason could overcome their veneration and respect for him. Finding that he could do nothing, and fearful that Wallenstein should discover the commission with which he was charged, Gallas sought for a pretence to escape from Pilsen, and offered to go to Altringer and to persuade him to return with him.
Wallenstein had no doubts of the fidelity of the general, and allowed him to depart. As he did not return at once Piccolomini, who was also most anxious to get out of the grasp of Wallenstein, offered to go and fetch both Gallas and Altringer. Wallenstein consented, and conveyed Piccolomini in his own carriage to Lintz. No sooner had Piccolomini left him than he hurried to his own command, denounced Wallenstein as a traitor, and prepared to surprise the duke in Pilsen. Gallas at the same time sent round copies of his commission to all the Imperial camps.
Upon his arrival Malcolm at once proceeded to the castle, and, finding the steward, requested him to inform the duke that he had returned. In a few minutes he was ushered into his presence, and handed to him the letter from Oxenstiern. Wallenstein tore it open without a word and gave an exclamation of satisfaction as he glanced it through.
"This is opportune indeed," he said, "and I thank you for bringing me the news so rapidly. Well did the astrologer say that my destiny to some extent depended on you; this is a proof that he was right. The chancellor tells me that the Duke of Saxe-Lauenberg will march instantly with four thousand men to join me, and that Duke Bernhard will move down at once with six thousand of the best Swedish troops. I may yet be even with the traitors."
Although the defection of Gallas and Piccolomini and the news of the issue of the Imperial proclamation had fallen with stunning force upon Wallenstein, he had still faith in the fidelity of the army at large, and he had already despatched Marshal Terzky to Prague, where all the troops faithful to him were to assemble, intending to follow himself with the regiments at Pilsen as soon as carriage could be obtained from the country round. His astrologer still assured him that the stars were favourable, and Wallenstein's faith in his own destiny was unshaken.
Upon finding that Malcolm had orders to remain with him until he was joined by Duke Bernhard, he ordered handsome apartments to be prepared for him, and as there was no longer any reason why the fact that a Swedish officer was in the castle should be concealed, he commanded that Malcolm should be furnished with handsome raiment of all sorts and a suit of superb armour. Upon the following morning Wallenstein sent for him.
"I have bad news," he said. "General Suys with an army arrived at Prague before Terzky got there, and I fear that the influence of Piccolomini, Gallas, and Altringer have withdrawn from me the corps which they command. Terzky will return tomorrow morning, and I shall then march with him and the troops here to Egra. There I shall effect a junction with Duke Bernhard, who is instructed to march upon that town.''
The duke, though anxious, still appeared confident; but the outlook seemed to Malcolm extremely gloomy. The whole army save the regiments around Pilsen had fallen away from Wallenstein. His princely generosity to the generals and officers and his popularity among the troops had failed to attach them to him now that he had declared against the emperor, and it appeared to Malcolm that he would be able to bring over to the Swedish cause only the corps which he immediately commanded.
Still his defection could not but cause a vast gap in the Imperial defences, and the loss of the services of the greatest of their leaders would in itself be a heavy blow to the Imperialist cause, which had been almost solely supported by his commanding talents and his vast private income. Terzky arrived on the following morning, and the same afternoon Wallenstein with the whole of the troops at Pilsen marched towards Egra.
Among the officers attached to Wallenstein's person was a Scotchman named Leslie, to whom and a few other confidants Wallenstein had confided his designs. Wallenstein had at once introduced Malcolm to him, and the two rode in company during the march to Egra. Malcolm did not find him a cheerful companion. They chatted at times of the engagements in which both had taken part although on opposite sides; but Malcolm saw that his companion was absent and preoccupied, and that he avoided any conversation as to the turn which events had taken.
At the end of the first day's ride Malcolm came to the decided conclusion that he did not like his companion, and, moreover, that his heart was far from being in the enterprise on which they were engaged. The following day he avoided joining him, and rode with some of the other officers. Upon their arrival at Egra the gates were opened at their approach, and Colonel Butler, an Irishman who commanded the garrison, met Wallenstein as he entered, and saluted him with all honour. Wallenstein was pleased to find that the disaffection which had spread so rapidly through the army had not reached Egra.
A few hours after he had entered the town Wallenstein received the news that an Imperial edict had been issued proclaiming him a traitor and an outlaw; he also learned that the corps under the Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg was within a day's march of Egra. As soon as the duke retired to his apartments Leslie sought out Colonel Butler, and revealed to him the purposes of Wallenstein, and informed him of the Imperial order absolving the army from their allegiance to him. The two men, with Lieutenant Colonel Gordon, another Imperialist officer, at once determined to capture Wallenstein and to hand him over as a prisoner to the emperor.
In the afternoon Leslie had an interview with Wallenstein, who told him of the near approach of the Dukes of Saxe-Lauenburg and Saxe-Weimar, and informed him of his plans for advancing from Egra direct into the heart of Bohemia.
The treacherous officer at once hurried away with the news to his two associates, and it was agreed that the near approach of the Saxons rendered it impossible for them to carry out their first plan, but that instant and more urgent steps must be taken. That evening a banquet was given by Butler to Wallenstein and his officers. The duke, however, was too anxious to appear at it, and remained in his own apartment, the rest of the officers, among them Wallenstein's chief confidants, Illo, Terzky, and Kinsky, together with Captain Neumann, an intimate adviser of Terzky, were among the guests. Malcolm was also present.
The banquet passed off gaily, Wallenstein's health was drunk in full bumpers, and his friends boasted freely that in a few days he would find himself at the head of as powerful an army as he had ever before commanded. Malcolm had naturally been placed at the table near his compatriots, and it seemed to him that their gaiety was forced and unnatural, and a sense of danger came over him.
The danger indeed was great, although he knew it not. The drawbridge of the castle had been drawn up, the avenues leading to it guarded, and twenty infantry soldiers and six of Butler's dragoons were in hiding in the apartment next to the banqueting hall.
Dessert was placed on the table; Leslie gave the signal, and in an instant the hall was filled with armed men, who placed themselves behind the chairs of Wallenstein's trusted officers with shouts of "Long live Ferdinand!" The three officers instantly sprang to their feet, but Terzky and Kinsky were slain before they had time to draw their swords.
Neumann in the confusion escaped into the court, where he too was cut down. Illo burst through his assailants, and placing his back against a window stood on his defence. As he kept his assailants at bay he poured the bitterest reproaches upon Gordon for his treachery, and challenged him to fight him fairly and honourably. After a gallant resistance, in which he slew two of his assailants, he fell to the ground overpowered by numbers, and pierced with ten wounds.
Malcolm had sprung to his feet at the commencement of the tumult, but was pressed down again into his chair by two soldiers, while Leslie exclaimed, "Keep yourself quiet, sir, I would fain save you as a fellow countryman, and as one who is simply here in the execution of his duty; but if you draw sword to defend these traitors, you must share their fate."
No sooner had the murder of the four officers been accomplished than Leslie, Butler, and Gordon issued into the town. Butler's cavalry paraded the streets, and that officer quieted the garrison by telling them that Wallenstein had been proclaimed a traitor and an outlaw, and that all who were faithful to the emperor must obey their orders. The regiments most attached to Wallenstein had not entered the city, and the garrison listened to the voice of their commander.
Wallenstein knew nothing of what had taken place in the castle, and had just retired to bed when a band of Butler's soldiers, led by Captain Devereux, an Irishman, burst into his apartment. The duke leaped from his bed, but before he could snatch up a sword he was pierced through and through by the murderers' halberts.
So fell one of the greatest men of his age. Even to the present day there are differences of opinion as to the extent of his guilt, but none as to the treachery with which he was murdered by his most trusted officers. That Wallenstein owed much gratitude to the emperor is unquestionable, but upon the other hand he had even a greater title to the gratitude of Ferdinand, whose crown and empire he had repeatedly saved. Wallenstein was no bigot, his views were broad and enlightened, and he was therefore viewed with the greatest hostility by the violent Catholics around the king, by Maximilian of Bavaria, by the Spaniards, and by the Jesuits, who were all powerful at court. These had once before brought about his dismissal from the command, after he had rendered supreme services, and their intrigues against him were again at the point of success when Wallenstein determined to defy and dethrone the emperor. The coldness with which he was treated at court, the marked inattention to all his requests, the consciousness that while he was winning victories in the field his enemies were successfully plotting at court, angered the proud and haughty spirit of Wallenstein almost to madness, and it may truly be said that he was goaded into rebellion. The verdict of posterity has certainly been favourable to him, and the dastardly murder which requited a lifetime of brilliant services has been held to more than counterbalance the faults which he committed.