The Lion of the North by G. A. Henty
Chapter VII. A Quiet Time
In spite of the urgent entreaties of Gustavus and the pressing peril of Magdeburg, the wavering Duke of Brandenburg could not bring himself to join the Swedes. He delivered Spandau over to them, but would do no more. The Swedish army accordingly marched to Berlin and invested his capital. The duke sent his wife to Gustavus to beseech him to draw off his army and allow him to remain neutral; but Gustavus would not listen to his entreaties, and insisted, as the only condition upon which he would raise the siege, that the duke should ally himself with him, and that the troops of Brandenburg should join his army.
These conditions the duke was obliged to accept, but in the meantime his long hesitation and delay had caused the loss of Magdeburg, which after a gallant defence was stormed by the troops of Pappenheim and Tilly on the 10th of May. The ferocious Tilly had determined upon a deed which would, he believed, frighten Germany into submission; he ordered that no quarter should be given, and for five days the city was handed over to the troops.
History has no record since the days of Attila of so frightful a massacre. Neither age nor sex was spared, and 30,000 men, women, and children were ruthlessly massacred. The result for a time justified the anticipations of the ferocious leader. The terrible deed sent a shudder of horror and terror through Protestant Germany. It seemed, too, as if the catastrophe might have been averted had the Swedes shown diligence and marched to the relief of the city; for in such a time men were not inclined to discuss how much of the blame rested upon the shoulders of the Duke of Brandenburg, who was, in fact, alone responsible for the delay of the Swedes.
Many of the princes and free towns which had hitherto been staunch to the cause of Protestantism at once hastened to make their peace with the emperor. For a time the sack of Magdeburg greatly strengthened the Imperialist cause. No sooner did the news reach the ears of the Duke of Brandenburg than his fears overcame him, and he wrote to Gustavus withdrawing from the treaty he had made, and saying that as Spandau had only been delivered to him in order that he might march to the relief of Magdeburg he was now bound in honour to restore it.
Gustavus at once ordered Spandau to be evacuated by his troops, and again marched with the army against Berlin, which he had but a few days before left. Here he again dictated terms, which the duke was forced to agree to.
The Swedish army now marched to Old Brandenburg, thirty-four miles west of Berlin, and there remained for some time waiting until some expected reinforcements should reach it.
The place was extremely unhealthy, and great numbers died from malaria and fever, thirty of Munro's musketeers dying in a single week. During this time the king was negotiating with the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave of Hesse. These were the two most powerful of the Protestant princes in that part of Germany, and Tilly resolved to reduce them to obedience before the army of Gustavus was in a position to move forward, for at present his force was too small to enable him to take the field against the united armies of Tilly and Pappenheim.
He first fell upon the Landgrave of Hesse, and laid Thuringen waste with fire and sword. Frankenhausen was plundered and burned to the ground. Erfurt saved itself from a similar fate by the payment of a large sum of money, and by engaging to supply great stores of provisions for the use of the Imperial army. The Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel was next summoned by Tilly, who threatened to carry fire and sword through his dominions unless he would immediately disband his troops, pay a heavy contribution and receive the Imperial troops into his cities and fortresses; but the landgrave refused to accept the terms.
Owing to the unhealthiness of the district round Old Brandenburg, Gustavus raised his camp there, and marched forward to Werben near the junction of the Elbe with the Havel. He was joined there by his young queen, Maria Eleonora, with a reinforcement of 8000 men, and by the Marquis of Hamilton with 6200, for the most part Scotch, who had been raised by him with the consent of Charles I, to whom the marquis was master of the horse.
Werben was distant but a few miles from Magdeburg, and Pappenheim, who commanded the troops in that neighbourhood, seeing that Gustavus was now in a position to take the field against him, sent an urgent message to Tilly for assistance; and the Imperial general, who was on the point of attacking the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, at once marched with his army and effected a junction with Pappenheim, their combined force being greatly superior to that of Gustavus even after the latter had received his reinforcements.
Malcolm had not accompanied the army in its march from Old Brandenburg. He had been prostrated by fever, and although he shook off the attack it left him so weak and feeble that he was altogether unfit for duty. The army was still lying in its swampy quarters, and the leech who had attended him declared that he could never recover his strength in such an unhealthy air. Nigel Graheme, who had now rejoined the regiment cured of his wound, reported the surgeon's opinion to Munro.
"I am not surprised," the colonel said, "and there are many others in the same state; but whither can I send them? The Elector of Brandenburg is so fickle and treacherous that he may at any moment turn against us."
"I was speaking to Malcolm," Nigel replied, "and he said that he would he could go for a time to recruit his health in that village among the hills where he had the fight with the freebooters who made him captive. He said he was sure of a cordial welcome there, and it is but three days' march from here."
"'Tis an out-of-the-way place," Munro said, "and if we move west we shall be still further removed from it. There are Imperial bands everywhere harrying the country unguarded by us, and one of these might at any moment swoop down into that neighbourhood."
"That is true; but, after all, it would be better that he should run that risk than sink from weakness as so many have done here after getting through the first attack of fever."
"That is so, Nigel, and if you and Malcolm prefer that risk to the other I will not say you nay; but what is good for him is good for others, and I will ask the surgeon to make me a list of twenty men who are strong enough to journey by easy stages, and who yet absolutely require to get out of this poisonous air to enable them to effect their recovery. We will furnish them with one of the baggage wagons of the regiment, so that they can ride when they choose. Tell the paymaster to give each man in advance a month's pay, that they may have money to pay what they need. Horses are scarce, so we can give them but two with the wagon, but that will be sufficient as they will journey slowly. See that a steady and experienced driver is told off with them. They had best start at daybreak tomorrow morning."
At the appointed time the wagon was in readiness, and those who had to accompany Malcolm gathered round, together with many of their comrades who had assembled to wish them Godspeed. The pikes and muskets, helmets and breast pieces were placed in the wagon, and then the fever stricken band formed up before it.
Munro, Nigel, and most of the officers came down to bid farewell to Malcolm, and to wish him a speedy return in good health. Then he placed himself at the head of the band and marched off, the wagon following in the rear. Before they had been gone a mile several of the men had been compelled to take their places in the wagon, and by the time three miles had been passed the rest had one by one been forced to give in.
Malcolm was one of the last. He took his seat by the driver, and the now heavily freighted wagon moved slowly across the country. A store of provisions sufficient for several days had been placed in the wagon, and after proceeding fifteen miles a halt was made at a deserted village, and two of the houses in the best condition were taken possession of, Malcolm and the sergeant of the party, a young fellow named Sinclair, occupying the one, and the men taking up their quarters in another.
The next morning the benefit of the change and the removal from the fever tainted air made itself already apparent. The distance performed on foot was somewhat longer than on the preceding day; the men were in better spirits, and marched with a brisker step than that with which they had left the camp. At the end of the fourth day they approached the wood in which the village was situated.
"I will go on ahead," Malcolm said. "Our approach will probably have been seen, and unless they know who we are we may meet with but a rough welcome. Halt the wagon here until one returns with news that you may proceed, for there may be pitfalls in the road."
Malcolm had kept the horse on which he had ridden to Landsberg, and it had been tied behind the wagon. During the last day's march he had been strong enough to ride it. He now dismounted, and taking the bridle over his arm he entered the wood. He examined the road cautiously as he went along. He had gone about half way when the farmer with four of his men armed with pikes suddenly appeared in the road before him.
"Who are you," the farmer asked, "and what would you here?"
"Do you not remember me?" Malcolm said. "It is but three months since I was here."
"Bless me, it is our Scottish friend! Why, lad, I knew you not again, so changed are you. Why, what has happened to you?"
"I have had the fever," Malcolm said, "and have been like to die; but I thought that a change to the pure air of your hills and woods here would set me up. So I have travelled here to ask your hospitality."
By this time the farmer had come up and had grasped Malcolm's hand.
"All that I have is yours," he said warmly. "The lookout saw a wagon coming across the plain with three or four men walking beside it, and he thought that many more were seated in it; so thinking that this might be a ruse of some freebooting band, I had the alarm bell rung, and prepared to give them a hot reception."
"I have brought some sick comrades with me," Malcolm said. "I have no thought of quartering them on you. That would be nigh as bad as the arrival of a party of marauders, for they are getting strength, and will, I warrant you, have keen appetites ere long; but we have brought tents, and will pay for all we have."
"Do not talk of payment," the farmer said heartily. "As long as there is flour in the storehouse and bacon on the beams, any Scottish soldier of Gustavus is welcome to it, still more if they be comrades of thine."
"Thanks, indeed," Malcolm replied. "I left them at the edge of the wood, for I knew not what welcome you might have prepared here; and seeing so many men you might have shot at them before waiting to ask a question."
"That is possible enough," the farmer said, "for indeed we could hardly look for friends. The men are all posted a hundred yards further on."
The farmer ordered one of his men to go on and bring up the wagon, and then with Malcolm walked on to the village. A call that all was right brought out the defenders of the ambush. It had been arranged similarly to that which had been so successful before, except that instead of the pit, several strong ropes had been laid across the road, to be tightened breast high as soon as an enemy came close to them.
"These are not as good as the pit," the farmer said as they passed them; "but as we have to use the road sometimes we could not keep a pit here, which, moreover, might have given way and injured any one from a neighbouring village who might be riding hither. We have made a strong stockade of beams among the underwood on either side, so that none could break through into the wood from the path."
"That is good," Malcolm said; "but were I you I would dig a pit across the road some twelve feet wide, and would cover it with a stout door with a catch, so that it would bear wagons crossing, but when the catch is drawn it should rest only on some light supports below, and would give way at once if a weight came on it. It would, of course, be covered over with turf. It will take some time to make, but it will add greatly to your safety."
"It shall be done," the farmer said. "Wood is in plenty, and some of my men are good carpenters. I will set about it at once."
On arriving at the village Malcolm was cordially welcomed by the farmer's wife and daughters. The guest chamber was instantly prepared for him and refreshments laid on the table, while the maids, under the direction of the farmer's wife, at once began to cook a bounteous meal in readiness for the arrival of the soldiers. A spot was chosen on some smooth turf under the shade of trees for the erection of the tents, and trusses of clean straw carried there for bedding.
Malcolm as he sat in the cool chamber in the farm house felt the change delightful after the hot dusty journey across the plain. There was quite an excitement in the little village when the wagon drove up. The men lifted the arms and baggage from the wagon. The women offered fruit and flagons of wine, and fresh cool water, to the soldiers. There was not only general pleasure throughout the village caused by the novelty of the arrival of the party from the outer world, but a real satisfaction in receiving these men who had fought so bravely against the oppressors of the Protestants of Germany. There was also the feeling that so long as this body of soldiers might remain in the village they would be able to sleep in peace and security, safe from the attacks of any marauding band. The tents were soon pitched by the peasants under the direction of Sergeant Sinclair, straw was laid down in them, and the canvas raised to allow the air to sweep through them.
Very grateful were the weary men for the kindness with which they were received, and even the weakest felt that they should soon recover their strength.
In an hour two men came up from the farm house carrying a huge pot filled with strong soup. Another brought a great dish of stew. Women carried wooden platters, bowls of stewed fruit, and loaves of bread; and the soldiers, seated upon the grass, fell to with an appetite such as they had not experienced for weeks. With the meal was an abundant supply of the rough but wholesome wine of the country.
To the Scottish soldiers after the hardships they had passed through, this secluded valley seemed a perfect paradise. They had nought to do save to eat their meals, to sleep on the turf in the shade, or to wander in the woods and gardens free to pick what fruit they fancied. Under these circumstances they rapidly picked up strength, and in a week after their arrival would hardly have been recognized as the feeble band who had left the Swedish camp at Old Brandenburg.
On Sunday the pastor arrived. He did not live permanently at the village, but ministered to the inhabitants of several villages scattered among the hills, holding services in them by turns, and remaining a few days in each. As the congregation was too large for the room in the farm house the service was held in the open air. The Scotch soldiers were all present, and joined heartily in the singing, although many of them were ignorant of the language, and sang the words of Scotch hymns to the German tunes.
Even the roughest of them, and those who had been longest away from their native country, were much moved by the service. The hush and stillness, the air of quiet and peace which prevailed, the fervour with which all joined in the simple service, took them back in thought to the days of their youth in quiet Scottish glens, and many a hand was passed hastily across eyes which had not been moistened for many a year.
The armour and arms were now cleaned and polished, and for a short time each day Malcolm exercised them. The martial appearance and perfect discipline of the Scots struck the villagers with admiration the first time they saw them under arms, and they earnestly begged Malcolm that they might receive from him and Sergeant Sinclair some instruction in drill.
Accordingly every evening when work was done the men of the village were formed up and drilled. Several of the soldiers took their places with them in the ranks in order to aid them by their example. After the drill there was sword and pike exercise, and as most of the men had already some knowledge of the use of arms they made rapid progress, and felt an increased confidence in their power to defend the village against the attacks of any small bands of plunderers. To Malcolm the time passed delightfully. His kind hosts vied with each other in their efforts to make him comfortable, and it was in vain that he assured them that he no longer needed attention and care. A seat was always placed for him in the coolest nook in the room, fresh grapes and other fruit stood in readiness on a table hard by. The farmer's daughters, busy as they were in their household avocations, were always ready to sit and talk with him when he was indoors, and of an evening to sing him the country melodies.
At the end of a fortnight the men were all fit for duty again, but the hospitable farmer would not hear of their leaving, and as news from time to time reached them from the outer world, and Malcolm learned that there was no chance of any engagement for a time between the hostile armies, he was only too glad to remain.
Another fortnight passed, and Malcolm reluctantly gave the word that on the morrow the march must be recommenced. A general feeling of sorrow reigned in the village when it was known that their guests were about to depart, for the Scottish soldiers had made themselves extremely popular. They were ever ready to assist in the labours of the village. They helped to pick the apples from the heavily laden trees, they assisted to thrash out the corn, and in every way strove to repay their entertainers for the kindness they had shown them.
Of an evening their camp had been the rendezvous of the whole village. There alternately the soldiers and the peasants sang their national songs, and joined in hearty choruses. Sometimes there were dances, for many of the villagers played on various instruments; and altogether Glogau had never known such a time of festivity and cheerfulness before.
Late in the evening of the day before they had fixed for their departure the pastor rode into the village.
"I have bad news," he said. "A party of Pappenheim's dragoons, three hundred strong, are raiding in the district on the other side of the hills. A man came in just as I mounted my horse, saying that it was expected they would attack Mansfeld, whose count is a sturdy Protestant. The people were determined to resist to the last, in spite of the fate of Magdeburg and Frankenhausen, but I fear that their chance of success is a small one; but they say they may as well die fighting as be slaughtered in cold blood."
"Is Mansfeld fortified?" Malcolm asked.
"It has a wall," the pastor replied, "but of no great strength. The count's castle, which stands on a rock adjoining it, might defend itself for some time, but I question whether it can withstand Pappenheim's veterans.
"Mansfeld itself is little more than a village. I should not say it had more than a thousand inhabitants, and can muster at best about two hundred and fifty men capable of bearing arms."
"How far is it from here?" Malcolm asked after a pause.
"Twenty-four miles by the bridle path across the hills."
"When were the Imperialists expected to arrive?"
"They were ten miles away this morning," the pastor replied; "but as they were plundering and burning as they went they will not probably arrive before Mansfeld before the morning. Some of the more timid citizens were leaving, and many were sending away their wives and families."
"Then," Malcolm said, "I will march thither at once. Twenty good soldiers may make all the difference, and although I have, of course, no orders for such an emergency, the king can hardly blame me even if the worst happens for striking a blow against the Imperialists here. Will you give me a man," he asked the farmer, "to guide us across the hills?"
"That will I right willingly," the farmer said; "but it seems to me a desperate service to embark in. These townspeople are of little good for fighting, and probably intend only to make a show of resistance in order to procure better terms. The count himself is a brave nobleman, but I fear that the enterprise is a hopeless one."
"Hopeless or not," Malcolm said, "I will undertake it, and will at once put the men under arms. The wagon and horses with the baggage I will leave here till I return, that is if we should ever come back again."
A tap of the drum and the soldiers came running in hastily from various cottages where they were spending their last evening with their village friends, wondering at the sudden summons to arms. As soon as they had fallen in, Malcolm joined them.
"Men," he said, "I am sorry to disturb you on your last evening here, but there is business on hand. A party of Pappenheim's dragoons are about to attack the town of Mansfeld, where the people are of the Reformed Religion. The siege will begin in the morning, and ere that time we must be there. We have all got fat and lazy, and a little fighting will do us good."
The thought of a coming fray reconciled the men to their departure from their quiet and happy resting place. Armour was donned, buckles fastened, and arms inspected, and in half an hour, after a cordial adieu from their kind hosts, the detachment marched off, their guide with a lighted torch leading the way. The men were in light marching order, having left everything superfluous behind them in the wagon; and they marched briskly along over hill and through forest without a halt, till at three o'clock in the morning the little town of Mansfeld, with its castle rising above it, was visible before them in the first light of morning.
As they approached the walls a musketoon was fired, and the alarm bell of the church instantly rang out. Soon armed men made their appearance on the walls. Fearing that the burghers might fire before waiting to ascertain who were the newcomers, Malcolm halted his band, and advanced alone towards the walls.
"Who are you who come in arms to the peaceful town of Mansfeld?" an officer asked from the wall.
"I am an officer of his Swedish Majesty, Gustavus, and hearing that the town was threatened with attack by the Imperialists, I have marched hither with my detachment to aid in the defence."
A loud cheer broke from the walls. Not only was the reinforcement a most welcome one, small as it was, for the valour of the Scottish soldiers of the King of Sweden was at that time the talk of all Germany, but the fact that a detachment of these redoubted troops had arrived seemed a proof that the main army of the Swedish king could not be far away. The gates were at once opened, and Malcolm with his band marched into Mansfield.