The Lion of the North by G. A. Henty
Chapter XXIV. Malcolm's Escape
After the fall of Wallenstein's colonels Malcolm was led away a prisoner, and was conducted to a dungeon in the castle. It was not until the door closed behind him that he could fairly realize what had taken place, so sudden and unexpected had been the scene in the banqueting hall. Five minutes before he had been feasting and drinking the health of Wallenstein, now he was a prisoner of the Imperialists. Wallenstein's adherents had been murdered, and it was but too probable that a like fate would befall the general himself. The alliance from which so much had been hoped, which seemed to offer a prospect of a termination of the long and bloody struggle, was cut short at a blow.
As to his own fate it seemed dark enough, and his captivity might last for years, for the Imperialists' treatment of their prisoners was harsh in the extreme. The system of exchange, which was usual then as now, was in abeyance during the religious war in Germany. There was an almost personal hatred between the combatants, and, as Malcolm knew, many of his compatriots who had fallen into the hands of the Imperialists had been treated with such harshness in prison that they had died there. Some, indeed, were more than suspected of having been deliberately starved to death.
However, Malcolm had gone through so many adventures that even the scene which he had witnessed and his own captivity and uncertain fate were insufficient to banish sleep from his eyes, and he reposed as soundly on the heap of straw in the corner of his cell as he would have done in the carved and gilded bed in the apartment which had been assigned to him in the castle.
The sun was shining through the loophole of his dungeon when he awoke. For an hour he occupied himself in polishing carefully the magnificently inlaid armour which Wallenstein had presented him, and which, with the exception of his helmet, he had not laid aside when he sat down to the banquet, for it was very light and in no way hampered his movements, and except when quartered in towns far removed from an enemy officers seldom laid aside their arms. He still retained his sword and dagger, for his captors, in their haste to finish the first act of the tragedy, and to resist any rising which might take place among the soldiery, had omitted to take them from him when they hurried him away.
On examination he found that with his dagger he could shove back the lock of the door, but this was firmly held by bolts without. Thinking that on some future occasion the blade might be useful to him, he pushed the dagger well into the lock, and with a sharp jerk snapped it off at the hilt. Then he concealed the steel within his long boot and cast the hilt through the loophole.
Presently a soldier brought him his breakfast -- a manchet of bread and a stoup of wine. He was visited again at dinner and supper. Before the soldier came in the first time Malcolm concealed his sword in the straw, thinking that the soldier would be sure to remove it if he noticed it. The man who brought his breakfast and dinner was taciturn, and made no reply to his questions, but another man brought his supper, and he turned out of a more communicative disposition.
"What has happened?" he repeated in reply to Malcolm's question. "Well, I don't know much about it myself, but I do know that Wallenstein is dead, for the trooper who rides next to me helped to kill him. Everyone is content that the traitor has been punished, and as the troops have all pronounced for the emperor every thing is quiet. We had a good laugh this afternoon. The colonel sent out one of our men dressed up in Wallenstein's livery to meet the Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg and invite him to come on at once and join him here. The duke suspected no danger, and rode on ahead of his troops, with a few attendants, and you should have seen his face, when, after passing through the gates, he suddenly found himself surrounded by our men and a prisoner. Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar will be here tomorrow, as they say, and we shall catch him in the same way. It's a rare trap this, I can tell you."
The news heightened Malcolm's uneasiness. The capture of Duke Bernhard, the most brilliant of the German generals on the Protestant side, would be a heavy blow indeed to the cause, and leaving his supper untasted Malcolm walked up and down his cell in a fever of rage at his impotence to prevent so serious a disaster.
At last he ate his supper, and then threw himself upon the straw, but he was unable to sleep. The death of Wallenstein had made a deep impression upon him. The Imperialist general was greatly respected by his foes. Not only was he admired for his immense military talents, but he carried on the war with a chivalry and humanity which contrasted strongly with the ferocity of Tilly, Pappenheim, and Piccolomini. Prisoners who fell into his hands were always treated with courtesy, and although, from motives of policy, he placed but little check upon the excesses of his soldiery, no massacres, such as those which had caused the names of Tilly and Pappenheim to be held in abhorrence by the Protestants of Germany, were associated with that of Wallenstein. Then, too, the princely dignity and noble presence of the duke had greatly impressed the young soldier, and the courtesy with which he had treated him personally had attracted his liking as well as respect. To think that this great general, this princely noble, the man who alone had baffled the Lion of the North, had been foully murdered by those he had trusted and favoured, filled him with grief and indignation, the more so since two of the principal assassins were Scotchmen.
The thought that on the morrow Duke Bernhard of Weimar -- a leader in importance second only to the Chancellor of Sweden -- would fall unsuspiciously into the trap set for him goaded him almost to madness, and he tossed restlessly on the straw through the long hours of the night. Towards morning he heard a faint creaking of bolts, then there was a sound of the locks of the door being turned. He grasped his sword and sprang to his feet. He heard the door close again, and then a man produced a lantern from beneath a long cloak, and he saw Wallenstein's steward before him. The old man's eyes were bloodshot with weeping, and his face betokened the anguish which the death of his master had caused him.
"You have heard the news?" he asked.
"Alas!" Malcolm replied, "I have heard it indeed."
"I am determined," the old man said, "to thwart the projects of these murderers and to have vengeance upon them. None have thought of me. I was an old man, too insignificant for notice, and I have passed the day in my chamber lamenting the kindest of lords, the best of masters. Last evening I heard the soldiers boasting that today they would capture the Duke of Saxe-Weimar, and I determined to foil them. They have been feasting and drinking all night, and it is but now that the troopers have fallen into a drunken slumber and I was able to possess myself of the key of your dungeon.
"Here is your helmet. I will lead you to the stable, where I have saddled the best and fastest of my master's horses. You must remain there quietly until you deem that the gates are open, then leap upon the horse, and ride for your life. Few will know you, and you will probably pass out of the gate unquestioned. If not, you have your sword to cut your way. Once beyond the town ride to meet the duke. Tell him my master has been murdered, that Egra is in the hands of the Imperialists, and that Saxe-Lauenburg is a prisoner. Bid him march on this place with his force, take it by assault, and leave not one of the assassins of my lord living within its walls."
"You will run no risk, I hope, for your share in this adventure," Malcolm said.
"It matters little to me," the old man replied. "My life is worthless, and I would gladly die in the thought that I have brought retribution on the head of the murderers of my master. But they will not suspect me. I shall lock the door behind us, and place the key again in the girdle of the drunken guard, and then return to my own chamber."
Quietly Malcolm and his conductor made their way through the castle and out into the courtyard. Then they entered the stables.
"This is the horse," the steward said, again uncovering his lantern. "Is he not a splendid animal? He was my master's favourite, and sooner than that his murderers should ride him I would cut the throat of the noble beast with my dagger; but he has a better mission in carrying the avenger of his master's blood. And now farewell. The rest is in your own hands. May Heaven give you good fortune." So saying, the old man set down his lantern and left Malcolm alone.
The latter, after examining the saddle and bridle, and seeing that every buckle was firm and in its place, extinguished the light, and waited patiently for morning. In two hours a faint light began to show itself. Stronger and stronger it grew until it was broad day. Still there were but few sounds of life and movement in the castle. Presently, however, the noise of footsteps and voices was heard in the courtyard.
Although apprehensive that at any moment the stable door might open, Malcolm still delayed his start, as it would be fatal were he to set out before the opening of the gates. At last he felt sure that they must be opened to admit the country people coming in with supplies for the market. He had donned his helmet before leaving his cell, and he now quietly opened the stable door, sprang into the saddle, and rode boldly out.
Several soldiers were loitering about the courtyard. Some were washing at the trough and bathing their heads beneath the fountain to get rid of the fumes of the wine they had indulged in overnight. Others were cleaning their arms.
The sudden appearance of a mounted officer armed from head to foot caused a general pause in their occupation, although none had any suspicion that the splendidly attired officer was a fugitive; but, believing that he was one of Leslie's friends who was setting out on some mission, they paid no further heed to him, as quietly and without any sign of haste he rode through the gateway of the castle into the town. The inhabitants were already in the streets, country women with baskets were vending their produce, and the market was full of people. Malcolm rode on at a foot pace until he was within sight of the open gate of the town. When within fifty yards of the gate he suddenly came upon Colonel Leslie, who had thus early been making a tour of the walls to see that the sentries were upon the alert, for Duke Bernhard's force was within a few miles. He instantly recognized Malcolm.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "Captain Graheme -- treachery! treachery! shut the gate there," and drawing his sword, threw himself in Malcolm's way.
Malcolm touched the horse with his spur and it bounded forward; he parried the blow which Leslie struck at him, and, with a sweeping cut full on the traitor's helmet, struck him to the ground and then dashed onward. A sentry was beginning to shut the gate, and his comrades were running out from the guardhouse as Malcolm galloped up.
The steward had fastened the holsters on to the saddle, and Malcolm, before starting, had seen to the priming of the pistols in them. Drawing one he shot the man who was closing the gate, and before his comrades could run up he dashed through it and over the drawbridge.
Several bullets whizzed around him, but he was soon out of range, and galloping at full speed in the direction in which the steward had told him that Duke Bernhard was encamped. In half an hour he reached the Swedish lines, and rode at once to the tent of the duke who was upon the point of mounting; beside him stood a man in the livery of Wallenstein. As he rode up Malcolm drew his pistol, and said to the man:
"If you move a foot I will send a bullet through your head."
"What is this?" exclaimed the duke in astonishment, "and who are you, sir, who with such scant courtesy ride into my camp?"
Malcolm raised his vizor. "I am Captain Graheme of Munro's regiment," he said, "and I have ridden here to warn your excellency of treachery. Wallenstein has been foully murdered. Egra is in the hands of the Imperialists, the Duke of Saxe-Lauenburg has been beguiled into a trap and taken prisoner, and this fellow, who is one of Butler's troopers, has been sent here to lead you into a like snare."
"Wallenstein murdered!" the duke exclaimed in tones of horror. "Murdered, say you? Impossible!"
"It is but too true, sir," Malcolm replied; "I myself saw his friends Illo, Terzky, and Kinsky assassinated before my eyes at a banquet. Wallenstein was murdered by his favourites Leslie and Gordon and the Irishman Butler. I was seized and thrown into a dungeon, but have escaped by a miracle to warn you of your danger."
"This is a blow indeed," the duke said mournfully. Turning to his attendants he ordered them to hang the false messenger to the nearest tree, and then begged Malcolm to follow him into his tent and give him full details of this terrible transaction.
"This upsets all our schemes indeed," the duke said when he had concluded. "What is the strength of the garrison at Egra?"
"There were Butler's dragoons and an infantry regiment in garrison there when we arrived; six regiments accompanied us on the march, and I fear that all these must now be considered as having gone over to the Imperialists."
"Then their force is superior to my own," the duke said, "for I have but six thousand men with me, and have no artillery heavy enough to make any impression upon the walls of the town. Much as I should like to meet these traitors and to deal out to them the punishment they deserve, I cannot adventure on the siege of Egra until I have communicated this terrible news to the Swedish chancellor. Egra was all important to us as affording an entrance into Bohemia so long as Wallenstein was with us, but now that he has been murdered and our schemes thus suddenly destroyed I cannot risk the destruction of my force by an assault upon the city, which is no longer of use to us."
Much as Malcolm would have liked to have seen the punishment of Wallenstein's treacherous followers, he could not but feel that the duke's view was, under the circumstances, the correct one. The tents were speedily struck, and the force fell back with all speed towards Bavaria, and after accompanying them for a march or two, Malcolm left them and rode to join his regiment, the duke having already sent off a messenger to Oxenstiern with a full account of the murder of Wallenstein.
As none could say what events were likely to follow the changed position of things, Malcolm determined at once to carry out the original intention of placing Thekla under the care of his friends at Nuremberg, in which direction it was not probable that the tide of war would for the present flow. After staying therefore a day or two with his regiment, where his relation of the events he had witnessed caused the greatest excitement and interest, Malcolm obtained leave from his colonel to escort Thekla to Nuremberg.
In order that they might pass in perfect safety across the intervening country Munro gave him an escort of twelve troopers, and with these he journeyed by easy stages to Nuremberg, where the worthy syndic of the clockmakers and his wife gladly received Thekla, and promised to treat her as one of their own daughters.
Here Malcolm took possession of his arms and valises, which he had sent, upon starting for Prague, to the care of Jans Boerhoff; not indeed that he needed the armour, for the suit which Wallenstein had given him was the admiration and envy of his comrades, and Munro had laughingly said that since Hepburn had left them no such gallantly attired cavalier had ridden in the ranks of the Scottish brigade.
There were many tears on Thekla's part as her young protector bade her adieu, for there was no saying how long a time might elapse before she might again see him, and Malcolm was sorely tempted to tell her that he had her father's consent to wooing her as his wife. He thought it, however, better to abstain from speaking, for should he fall in the campaign her grief would be all the greater had she come to think of him as her destined husband, for her hearty affection for him already assured him that she would make no objection to carrying out her father's wishes.
Shortly after rejoining his regiment Malcolm received a communication from the Swedish chancellor expressing in high terms his approbation of the manner in which he had carried out his instructions with regard to Wallenstein, and especially for the great service he had rendered the cause by warning the Duke of Saxe-Weimar of the trap which the Imperialists had set for him.
The death of Wallenstein was followed by a short pause in the war. It had entirely frustrated all the plans and hopes of the Protestants, and it caused a delay in the movement of the Imperialists. The emperor, when he heard of Wallenstein's death, heaped favours and honours upon the three men who had plotted and carried out his murder, and then appointed his son Ferdinand, King of Hungary, to the chief command of the army, with General Gallas as his principal adviser.
The Duke of Lorraine marched with an army to join the Imperialists, who were also strengthened by the arrival of 10,000 Spanish veterans, and early in May the new Imperial general entered the Palatinate and marched to lay siege to Ratisbon. To oppose the Imperial army, which numbered 35,000 men, Duke Bernhard, after having drawn together all the troops scattered in the neighbourhood, could only put 15,000 in the field. With so great a disparity of force he could not offer battle, but in every way he harassed and interrupted the advance of the Imperialists, while he sent pressing messages to Oxenstiern for men and money, and to Marshal Horn, who commanded in Alsace, to beg him march with all haste to his assistance.
Unfortunately Horn and Duke Bernhard were men of extremely different temperaments. The latter was vivacious, enterprising, and daring even to rashness, ready to undertake any enterprise which offered the smallest hope of success. Marshal Horn, on the other hand, although a good general, was slow, over cautious and hesitating, and would never move until his plans appeared to promise almost a certainty of success. Besides this, Horn, a Swede, was a little jealous that Duke Bernhard, a German, should be placed in the position of general-in-chief, and this feeling no doubt tended to increase his caution and to delay his action.
Consequently he was so long a time before be obeyed the pressing messages sent by the duke, that Ratisbon, after a valiant defence, surrendered on the 29th of July, before he had effected a junction with the duke's army. The Imperialists then marched upon Donauworth, and this place, after a feeble defence, also capitulated. The duke, heartbroken at seeing the conquests, which had been effected at so great a loss of life and treasure, wrested from his hands while he was unable to strike a blow to save them, in despair marched away to Swabia to meet the slowly advancing army of Marshal Horn.
No sooner was the junction effected than he turned quickly back and reached the vicinity of Nordlingen, only to find the enemy already there before him, and posted on the more advanced of the two heights which dominate the plain. By a skillful manoeuvre, however, he was enabled to throw within its walls a reinforcement to the garrison of eight hundred men.
Nordlingen, an important free town, stands on the south bank of the Ries, some 18 miles to the northeast of Donauworth. It was surrounded by a wall, interspersed with numerous towers, sufficiently strong to guard it against any surprise, but not to defend it against a regular siege by a numerous army. The vast plain on which the town stands is broken near its centre by two heights rising at a distance of three thousand yards from each other.
The height nearest to the town, which is very steep and craggy, is known as the Weinberg, the other is called Allersheim; a village stands some three hundred yards in advance of the valley between the heights, and is nearer to the town than either of the two eminences.
The Scotch brigade formed part of Duke Bernhard's command. It was now nearly two years since a pitched battle had been fought, for although there had been many skirmishes and assaults in the preceding year no great encounter had taken place between the armies since Gustavus fell at Lutzen, in October, 1632, and the Scotch brigade had not been present at that battle. In the time which had elapsed many recruits had arrived from Scotland, and Munro's regiment had been again raised to the strength at which it had landed at Rugen four years before. Not half a dozen of the officers who had then, full of life and spirit, marched in its ranks were now present. Death had indeed been busy among them. On the evening of their arrival in sight of the Imperialist army the two Grahemes supped with their colonel. Munro had but just arrived from the duke's quarters.
"I suppose we shall fight tomorrow, Munro," Major Graheme said.
"It is not settled," the colonel replied; "between ourselves the duke and Horn are not of one mind. The duke wants to fight; he urges that were we to allow Nordlingen to fall, as we have allowed Ratisbon and Donauworth, without striking a blow to save it, it would be an evidence of caution and even cowardice which would have the worst possible effect through Germany. Nordlingen has ever been staunch to the cause, and the Protestants would everywhere fall away from us did they find that we had so little care for their safety as to stand by and see them fall into the hands of the Imperialists without an effort. It is better, in the duke's opinion, to fight and to be beaten than to tamely yield Nordlingen to the Imperialists. In the one case honour would be satisfied and the reformers throughout Germany would feel that we had done our utmost to save their co-religionists, on the other hand there would be shame and disgrace."
"There is much in what the duke says," Nigel Graheme remarked.
"There is much," Munro rejoined; "but there is much also in the arguments of Horn. He reasons that we are outnumbered, the enemy is superior to us by at least a third, and to save the town we must attack them in an immensely strong position, which it will cost us great numbers to capture.
"The chances against our winning a victory are fully five to one. Granted the fall of Nordlingen will injure us in the eyes of the princes and people of Germany; but with good management on our part the feeling thus aroused will be but temporary, for we should soon wipe out the reverse. Of the 35,000 men of which the Imperial army is composed, 8000 at least are Spaniards who are on their way to Flanders, and who will very shortly leave it.
"On the other hand the Rhinegrave Otto Ludwig is with 7000 men within a few marches of us; in a short time therefore we shall actually outnumber the enemy, and shall be able to recover our prestige, just as we recovered it at Leipzig after suffering Magdeburg to fall. We shall recapture the towns which he has taken, and if the enemy should dare to accept battle we shall beat him, and shall be in a position to march upon Vienna."
"Horn's arguments are the strongest," Nigel Graheme said gravely; "the course he advises is the most prudent one."
"Undoubtedly," Munro replied; "but I think that it will not be followed. The duke is of a fiery spirit, and he would feel it, as most of us would feel it, a disgrace to fall back without striking a blow for Nordlingen. He has, too, been goaded nearly to madness during the last few days by messengers and letters which have reached him from the reformed princes and the free towns in all parts of Germany, reproaching him bitterly for having suffered Ratisbon and Donauworth to fall into the hands of the enemy without a blow, and he feels that his honour is concerned. I have little doubt that we shall fight a great battle to save Nordlingen."