Chapter XXV. Nordlingen
 

While Colonel Munro and his companions were discussing the matter a council of war was being held, and Duke Bernhard's view was adopted by all his generals, who felt with him that their honour was involved in the question, and that it would be disgraceful to march away without striking a blow to save the besieged city. Horn, therefore, being outvoted, was forced to give way. Up to nightfall the Imperialists had showed no signs of an intention to occupy the Weinberg, their forces being massed on and around the Allersheim Hill. It was determined therefore to seize the Weinberg at once, and the execution of this step was committed to Horn.

The choice was most unfortunate. The service was one upon the prompt carrying out of which victory depended, and Horn, though a brave and capable commander, was slow and cautious, and particularly unfitted for executing a service which had to be performed in a dark night across a country with which he was not familiar. Taking with him four thousand chosen musketeers and pikemen and twelve guns he set out at nine o'clock, but the rough road, the dikes, and ditches which intercepted the country impeded him, and the fact that he was unacquainted with the general position of the country made him doubly cautious, and it was not until midnight that he reached the foot of the hill.

Here, unfortunately, he came to the conclusion that since he had encountered such difficulties in crossing the flat country he should meet with even greater obstacles and delays in ascending the hill in the dark; he therefore took the fatal resolution of remaining where he was until daylight, and accordingly ordered the column to halt. Had he continued his march he would have reached the summit of the Weinberg unopposed, and the fate of the battle on the following day would have been changed. But the Imperialist leaders, Gallas and Cardinal Infanta Don Fernando, had not been unmindful of the commanding position of the hill upon which Horn was marching, and had given orders that it should be occupied before daylight by four hundred Spaniards.

The commander of this force was as over prompt in the execution of his orders as Horn was over cautious. He reached the top of the Weinberg before midnight, and at once set his men to work to intrench themselves strongly. As soon as daybreak enabled Horn to see the fatal consequences which had arisen from his delay he ordered his men to advance. With their usual gallantry the Swedes mounted the hill and rushed at the intrenchment. It was defended with the greatest obstinacy and courage by the Spaniards; but after desperate fighting the Swedes forced their way into the work at two points, and were upon the point of capturing the position when an ammunition wagon accidentally exploded in their midst, killing great numbers and throwing the rest into a temporary disorder, which enabled the Spaniards to drive them out and again occupy the intrenchments.

Before the Swedes had fully recovered themselves the Spanish cavalry, which at the first sound of the conflict the cardinal had ordered to the spot, charged them in flank and forced them to a precipitate retreat down the hillside. Bitterly regretting his delay at midnight, Horn brought up fresh troops, and after addressing encouraging words to those who had been already repulsed, led the united body to the assault.

But the Weinberg, which had been occupied in the early morning by only four hundred men, was now defended by the whole of the Spanish infantry. Vain now was the energy of Horn, and ineffectual the valour of his troops. Time after time did the Swedes climb the hill and strive to obtain a footing on its crest, each assault was repulsed with prodigious slaughter. Duke Bernhard was now fully engaged with the Imperialists on the Allersheim, and was gradually gaining ground. Seeing, however, how fruitless were the efforts of Horn to capture the Weinberg, he despatched as many of his infantry as he could spare to reinforce the marshal. Among these was Munro's regiment.

"Now, my brave lads," Colonel Munro shouted, as he led his regiment against the hill, "show them what Scottish hearts can do." With a cheer the regiment advanced. Pressing forward unflinchingly under a hail of bullets they won their way up the hill, and then gathering, hurled themselves with a shout upon the heavy masses of Spanish veterans. For a moment the latter recoiled before the onset; then they closed in around the Scotch, who had already lost a third of their number in ascending the hill.

Never did the famous regiment fight with greater courage and fury; but they were outnumbered ten to one, and their opponents were soldiers of European reputation. In vain the Scotchmen strove to break through the serried line of pikes which surrounded them. Here and there a knot of desperate men would win a way through; but ere others could follow them the Spanish line closed in again and cut them off from their comrades, and they died fighting to the last.

Fighting desperately in the front rank Munro and his officers encouraged their men with shouts and example; but it was all in vain, and he at last shouted to the remains of his followers to form in a solid body and cut their way back through the enemy who surrounded them. Hemmed in as they were by enemies the Scottish spearmen obeyed, and, headed by their colonel, flung themselves with a sudden rush upon the enemy. Before the weight and fury of the charge the veterans of Spain gave way, and the Scots found themselves on the crest of the hill which they had lately ascended. No sooner were they free from the Spanish ranks than the musketeers of the latter opened fire upon them, and numbers fell in the retreat. When they reached the foot of the fatal hill, and bleeding and breathless gathered round their commander, Munro burst into tears on finding that of the noble regiment he had led up the hill scarce enough remained to form a single company. Seven times now had Horn striven to carry the hill, seven times had he been repulsed with terrible slaughter, and he now began to fall back to join the force of Duke Bernhard. The latter, recognizing that the battle was lost, and that Horn, if not speedily succoured, was doomed, for the Imperialists, flushed with victory, were striving to cut him off, made a desperate attack upon the enemy hoping to draw their whole forces upon himself, and so enable Horn to retire. For the moment he succeeded, but he was too weak in numbers to bear the assault he had thus provoked. John of Werth, who commanded the Imperial cavalry, charged down upon the Swedish horsemen and overthrew them so completely that these, forced back upon their infantry, threw them also into complete disorder.

The instant Horn had given the orders to retreat, Colonel Munro, seeing the danger of the force being surrounded, formed up the little remnant of his regiment and set off at the double to rejoin the force of the duke. It was well that he did so, for just when he had passed over the intervening ground the Imperialist cavalry, fresh from the defeat of the Swedes, swept across the ground, completely cutting off Horn's division from that of the duke. A few minutes later Marshal Horn, surrounded on all sides by the enemy, and feeling the impossibility of further resistance with his weakened and diminished force, was forced to surrender with all his command.

Duke Bernhard narrowly escaped the same fate; but in the end he managed to rally some nine thousand men and retreated towards the Maine. The defeat was a terrible one; ten thousand men were killed and wounded, and four thousand under Horn taken prisoners; all the guns, equipage, and baggage fell into the hands of the enemy.

Nordlingen was the most decisive battle of the war; its effect was to change a war which had hitherto been really only a civil war -- a war of religion -- into one with a foreign enemy. Hitherto France had contented herself with subsidizing Sweden, who had played the principal part. Henceforward Sweden was to occupy but a secondary position. Cardinal Richelieu saw the danger of allowing Austria to aggrandize itself at the expense of all Germany, and now took the field in earnest.

Upon the other hand Nordlingen dissolved the confederacy of the Protestant German princes against Ferdinand the Second. The Elector of Saxony, who had ever been vacillating and irresolute in his policy, was the first to set the example by making peace with the emperor. The Elector of Brandenburg, Duke William of Weimar, the Prince of Anhalt, the Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg, the Duke of Mecklenburg, Pomerania, and the cities of Augsburg, Wurzburg, and Coburg, and many others hastened to follow the example of all the leading members of the Protestant Union.

Dukes Bernhard of Weimar and William of Cassel were almost alone in supporting the cause to maintain which Gustavus Adolphus had invaded Germany. The Swedish army, whose exploits had made the court of Vienna tremble, seemed annihilated, and well might the emperor deem that his final triumph over Protestantism was complete when he heard of the battle of Nordlingen, for as yet he dreamed not that its result would bring France into the field against him.

Malcolm Graheme was one of the few officers of Munro's regiment who burst his way through the Spanish lines on the top of the Weinberg. He was bleeding from several wounds, but none of them were serious. Nigel was beside him as they began to descend the hill; but scarcely had he gone a step when he fell headlong, struck by a ball from an arquebus. Malcolm and one of the sergeants raised him, and between them carried him to the foot of the hill; then, when the remains of the regiments started to rejoin Duke Bernhard, they were forced to leave him. Although Malcolm kept up with his regiment in the retreat he was so utterly exhausted by loss of blood that he could no longer accompany them. By the death of so many of his seniors he was now one of the majors of the regiment, if that could be called a regiment which was scarce a company in strength. A few days after the battle Colonel Munro received orders to march with his shattered remnant, scarce one of whom but was from wounds unfit for present service, by easy stages to North Germany, there to await the arrival of reinforcements from Scotland, which might raise the regiment to a strength which would enable it again to take the field.

Malcolm remained behind until his strength slowly returned. The colonel, before leaving, had bade him take his time before rejoining, as months would probably elapse before the regiment would again be fit for service. As soon as he was able to travel he journeyed to Nuremberg. On arriving at the abode of Jans Boerhoff he learned that Thekla was no longer an inmate of the family. The Count of Mansfeld had died in prison, and the countess had arrived at Nuremberg and had taken up her abode there. Malcolm made his way to the house she occupied. The meeting was an affecting one. Malcolm was greatly grieved over the death of his staunch friend, and joined in the sorrow of the countess and her daughter. A few days after his arrival the countess said to him:

"I am of course aware, Malcolm, of the conversation which the count had with you concerning Thekla, and my wishes fully agreed with his on the subject. In other times one would not speak of marriage when Thekla's father had been but two months dead; but it is no time for conventionalities now. All Southern Germany is falling away from the Protestant cause, and ere long we may see the Imperialists at the gate of Nuremberg, and it may be that in a few months the whole of Germany will be in their power. Therefore, I would that there should be no delay. Thekla is nearly seventeen; you are twenty-one -- over young both to enter upon the path of matrimony; but the events of the last few months have made a woman of her, while you have long since proved yourself both in thoughtfulness and in valour to be a man. Thekla is no longer a great heiress. Since Nordlingen we may consider that her father's estates have gone for ever, mine may follow in a few months. Therefore I must ask you, are you ready to take her without dowry?"

"I am," Malcolm said earnestly, "and that right gladly, for I love her with all my heart."

"It needs no questioning on my part," the countess said, "to know that she loves you as truly, and that her happiness depends wholly on you. I saw her anguish when the news came of the terrible defeat at Nordlingen and of the annihilation of some of the Scottish regiments. My heart was wrung by her silent despair, her white and rigid face, until the news came that you were among the few who had survived the battle, and, in the outburst of joy and thankfulness at the news, she owned to me that she loved you, her only fear being that you cared for her only as a sister, since no word of love had ever passed your lips. I reassured her on that score by telling her of your conversation with her father, and that a feeling of duty alone had kept you silent while she remained under your protection.

"However, Malcolm, she will not come to you penniless, for, seeing that it was possible that the war would terminate adversely, and determined to quit the country should he be forbidden to worship according to his own religion here, the count has from time to time despatched considerable sums to the care of a banker at Hamburg, and there are now 10,000 gold crowns in his hands.

"There are, moreover, my estates at Silesia, but these I have for sometime foreseen would follow those of my husband and fall into the hands of the emperor. Before the death of the count I talked over the whole matter with him, and he urged me in any case, even should you fall before becoming the husband of Thekla, to leave this unhappy country and to take refuge abroad.

"Before his death I had an interview with my nearest kinsman, who has taken sides with the Imperialists, and to him I offered to resign Thekla's rights as heiress to the estate for the sum of 10,000 crowns. As this was but three years revenue of the estates, and it secured their possession to him whether the Imperialists or Swedes were victorious in the struggle, he consented, after having obtained the emperor's consent to the step, and I have this morning received a letter from him saying that the money has been lodged in the hands of the banker at Hamburg, and Thekla and I have this morning signed a deed renouncing in his favour all claim to the estate. Thus Thekla has a dowry of 20,000 gold crowns -- a sum not unworthy of a dowry even for the daughter of a Count of Mansfeld; but with it you must take me also, for I would fain leave the country and end my days with her."

"Do you keep the dowry so long as you live, countess," Malcolm said earnestly. "It is more than the richest noble in Scotland could give with his daughter. My own estate, though small, is sufficient to keep Thekla and myself in ease, and my pleasure in having you with us will be equal to hers. You would wish, of course, that I should quit the army and return home, and, indeed, I am ready to do so. I have had more than enough of wars and fighting. I have been preserved well nigh by a miracle, when my comrades have fallen around me like grass. I cannot hope that such fortune would always attend me. The cause for which I have fought seems lost, and since the Protestant princes of Germany are hastening to desert it, neither honour nor common sense demand that I, a soldier of fortune and a foreigner, should struggle any longer for it; therefore I am ready at once to resign my commission and to return to Scotland."

"So be it," the countess said; "but regarding Thekla's dowry I shall insist on having my way. I should wish to see her in a position similar to that in which she was born, and with this sum you can largely increase your estates and take rank among the nobles of your country. Now I will call Thekla in and leave you to ask her to agree to the arrangements we have made.

"My child," she went on, as Thekla in obedience to her summons entered the apartment, "Malcolm Graheme has asked your hand of me. He tells me that he loves you truly, and is willing to take you as a penniless bride, and to carry you and me away with him far from these terrible wars to his native Scotland -- what say you, my love?"

Thekla affected neither shyness or confusion, her colour hardly heightened as in her sombre mourning she advanced to Malcolm, and laying her hand in his, said:

"He cannot doubt my answer, mother; he must know that I love him with my whole heart."

"Then, my daughter," the countess said, "I will leave you to yourselves; there is much to arrange, for time presses, and your betrothal must be quickly followed by marriage."

It was but a few days later that Malcolm led Thekla to the altar in St. Sebald's Church, Nuremberg. The marriage was a quiet one, seeing that the bride had been so lately orphaned, and only Jans Boerhoff and his family, and two or three Scottish comrades of Malcolm's, who were recovering from their wounds at Nuremberg, were present at the quiet ceremony. The following day the little party started for the north. Malcolm had already received a letter from Oxenstiern accepting his resignation, thanking him heartily for the good services he had rendered, and congratulating him on his approaching wedding.

Without adventure they reached Hamburg, and there, arranging with the banker for the transmission of the sum in his hands to Edinburgh, they took ship and crossed to Scotland.

Three months later Malcolm was delighted by the appearance of his uncle Nigel. The latter was indeed in dilapidated condition, having lost an arm, and suffering from other wounds. He had been retained a prisoner by the Imperialists only until he was cured, when they had freed him in exchange for an Imperial officer who had been captured by the Swedes.

Thekla's dowry enabled her husband largely to increase his estates. A new and handsome mansion was erected at a short distance from the old castle, and here Malcolm Graheme lived quietly for very many years with his beautiful wife, and saw a numerous progeny rise around them.

To the gratification of both, five years after her coming to Scotland, the Countess of Mansfeld married Nigel Graheme and the pair took up their abode in the old castle, which was thoroughly repaired and set in order by Malcolm for their use, while he and Thekla insisted that the fortune he had received as a dowry with his wife should be shared by the countess and Nigel.

THE END