Chapter XI: The Castle of La Villar
 

The next morning he called at eleven o'clock, at which hour the cardinal's secretary had informed him that Mazarin would expect him. He went to the abode of the minister. Mazarin received him with marked courtesy.

"Here are the deeds appointing to you the estate of la Villar and your patent of nobility," he said, pointing to a box upon his table. "You have been singularly fortunate, sir, and from all inquiries that I have made from officers who have served with Monsieur de Turenne, and, I may say, from Colonel Maclvor, I hear nothing but good of you, as a soldier devoted to duty, as a young man free from the vices and dissipations too common among those of your age, and as possessing intelligence as well as courage. Such men, sir, even royalty does well to attach to itself, and for them a splendid career is open. I, high as is the office in which Providence has placed me, may well envy you. You fight against the enemies of France; I am surrounded by enemies open and secret, and the war is no less earnest than that which Turenne and Enghien are waging.

"The great nobles of France are jealous that I, a foreigner, should have the ear of the queen, and be first minister of the country. Gladly indeed would I resign my position and return to my bishopric in Italy, were it not that I promised the great man to whose place I have so unworthily succeeded, that I would do my best for the country on whose behalf he spent every hour of his life, and that I would, unless driven from it by force, hold the seals of office until the young king should be old enough to rule France unaided. You, baron, are like myself a foreigner, and ready to risk your life in the service of France, and you will understand how I am situated and how I feel. You, happily for yourself, are not so highly placed as to excite enmity, although doubtless not a few of those who flocked round you yesterday evening to congratulate you on your good fortune felt a sensation of envy that a young soldier of fortune should be so honoured.

"In my case envy is accompanied by the deepest animosity. The great nobles find me an obstacle in the way of their grasping power, and they would hesitate at nothing to rid themselves of me. Were it not for the support of the queen, my position would be untenable even for an hour. Without me the queen herself would speedily become as much a cipher as she was so long as the weak king reigned. We have need, both of us, of men of heart and devotion such as I take you to be. I ask for no engagements, sir, but I felt that there was a genuine ring in your voice yesterday evening when you promised faithful service to her majesty, and I feel that if such service is needed you will be ready to render it."

"I shall indeed, your eminence. I cannot conceive that any circumstances can occur that would render such aid as I could offer of service to you, but be assured that should such an occasion arise, the queen may count upon me to render it to the extent of my life; and when I say the queen I, of course, include your eminence as her trusted adviser and supporter."

"Well spoken, sir. I believe your words, and it may be that the occasion is not so far distant as you may imagine. Here is the box, sir. By the way, it will, I am sure, be a pleasure for you to know that her majesty has the intention of creating the Viscount de Turenne field marshal as soon as he arrives in Paris."

"It is indeed, monseigneur; never did a soldier better earn such honour. There, indeed sir, is a true and noble heart, loyal to his duty beyond all things, adored by his soldiers, ready to serve under officers altogether inferior to himself, incapable of jealousy, and devoted to his sovereign and his country."

"You do not speak too warmly of him," the cardinal said; "and among all the difficulties of the situation there seems to be but one fixed point, and that point is that upon Monsieur de Turenne we can at least confidently rely."

Hector felt that his audience was at an end, and taking the box from the table, and again thanking the cardinal for the honour bestowed upon him, he retired. The cardinal's chamberlain met him at the door. "Will you step in here, monsieur le baron?" he said, and led the way into a small apartment. "As a stranger to the court, monsieur, you are probably unaware of the value of the gift that has been granted to you, or of its duties and obligations."

"Altogether, sir; beyond the fact that it is in Poitou, which her majesty mentioned yesterday, I know absolutely nothing about it."

"Without being an estate of the first class," the chamberlain said, "it is one which is of importance in its province. The revenue is punctually paid and is amply sufficient to enable its lord to make a good figure at court, and to rank among the notables in the province. It is a fief held directly from the crown; its owner is bound to furnish feudal service of twenty-five mounted men and twenty-five arquebusiers, or, should he prefer it, fifty horsemen in all. Some of its owners have in times of peril raised a force of thrice that strength. So you will see that the Lord of la Villar is not an unimportant personage. The estate is held at present by a royal intendant. You will find in that box an order for him to place you in possession of the castle and estate whensoever you may present yourself, and as at the present moment your services can be spared from the army, it might be as well to visit it at once, if only for a few days. Possibly the cardinal did not inform you that he has ordered that the regiment that has been just recruited shall bear the name of the regiment of Poitou, and has appointed you to its command."

This news gave much greater pleasure to Hector than did the gift of the fief, or the rank that accompanied it.

"Will you please give my earnest thanks to his excellency," he said, "and assure him that he can depend upon my devotion."

When Hector returned to the Hotel Conde he found that the soldiers who had started with him from Rocroi had all arrived, bringing with them the twelve horses that had been left on the road; four of these were to be handed over to each of the officers. The division was just being made as he entered the courtyard, each officer taking the four he had ridden by the way.

Paolo at once came up to him. "What are we to do with these horses, master?" he asked, with an air of bewilderment.

"We have now seven of them, counting mine, the one I led, and that you rode when you set out."

"I must see where I can bestow them for the present until we think the matter over;" and going up to one of Conde's officers, he asked him if he could recommend a place where he might leave safely four horses for a time.

"The auberge of the Pome d'Or is but a street from here, monsieur; it has good stables, and the host is an honest man, which is not often the case with men of his class. When the stables here are full the prince often engages extra stalls there for the use of his guests. I will send four men with the horses at once, if such is your pleasure."

"You will greatly oblige me by doing so," Hector replied. Having seen the horses safely and comfortably lodged at the inn, Hector returned to the hotel with Paolo.

"You are not tired, I hope, Paolo?" he asked as they walked back.

"No, master; we have taken three days to do what you did in one, and have fatigued neither ourselves nor our beasts."

"That is well, for I am going to start on a journey this afternoon, that is to say, if I can manage to make my arrangements."

"May I ask where you are going, master?"

"You will be surprised to hear that I am going to visit my estates in Poitou."

Paolo looked sharply up to see whether Hector was joking. Seeing that he looked serious, he said hesitatingly, "But I did not know, master, that you had estates in Poitou. I never heard you speak of them."

"Because I had them not, Paolo. That box that you are carrying holds the titles. The fief was granted to me last night by the queen herself, the Duc d'Enghien and General Gassion having been good enough to make a good deal more of that night adventure of ours than it deserved. The estates carry a title with them, and I am now the Baron de la Villar."

Paolo gave an exclamation of delight. "Well, master, I am glad indeed; but," he went on in a changed tone, "now that you, monsieur, have become a noble, you will no longer require the services of a lad from Savoy."

"Indeed I shall, Paolo, as long as you choose to remain with me. Why, have you not shared with me in the adventures, one of which made me a captain, and the other a colonel and a noble? Of course I shall have other servants, but you will always be my bodyservant and companion."

"And are you going to leave the army, monsieur?" Paolo asked, after pouring out his thanks.

"No, I shall still remain in the army. Turenne will be in Paris soon, and will then go to the Rhine to take the command there, and I hope to go with my regiment."

"Then you have a regiment, master?"

"Yes; one of the newly formed regiments has been named the regiment of Poitou, and I am to have the command. Of course, it may be sent either to him or to Enghien, but I hope that it will be to Turenne; and I should think so, because from what I hear there is scarcely any army left on the Rhine, and therefore it is probable that the new regiments will all be sent there, as Enghien's force is quite sufficient to cope with any enemy he is likely to meet with in Flanders. Now, I am going down to the barracks, and for the next two or three hours you can amuse yourself by taking a look at Paris."

It was not to the barracks that Hector made his way, but to The Scottish Soldier.

"I did not expect to see you so soon again, colonel. Your man brought me word that I was not to come this morning, as you would be engaged," the sergeant said when he entered.

"Yes, but our talk was only postponed, sergeant; now I want you to aid me in a matter that I have on hand."

"What sort of matter is it?"

"I want to find four good men to take into my service. The queen has granted me an estate, as if a colonelcy was not an ample and more than ample reward for discovering that ambuscade. It is the fief of la Villar in Poitou, and the most absurd point of the thing is that with it is a title, and I am now Colonel Campbell, Baron de la Villar."

"Well, well," the sergeant exclaimed; "you will be coming and telling me next that you are going to marry a princess of the blood. Did one ever hear of such things! However, Hector, lad, I congratulate you with all my heart, and I am as glad as if it had been a bairn of my own that had had your good fortune. Now, in what can I help you about the four men? What sort of men do you want?"

"I want four good men and true, sergeant, men that I can rely upon. I shall want them to ride with me in the field as orderlies, for I have been appointed to the command of an infantry regiment. Of course, I should like young and active men, but that they should be steady and accustomed to arms is still more important."

"I know but few men outside the regiment," the sergeant said. "The laddies like to have the place to themselves, and I don't encourage others about; but if you can do with good men who have somewhat passed their prime, but are still capable of service and handy with their arms, I know just the men that will suit you. We had a little bit of trouble in the regiment a week since; four of the men -- Allan Macpherson, Jock Hunter, Donald Nicholl, and Sandy Grahame -- came in after tattoo, and all a bit fu'. It was not here they got it, though; I know better than to supply men with liquor when it is time for them to be off to the barracks. Captain Muir, who is the only dour carl in the regiment, happened to be on duty, and he spoke a good deal more hardly to them than to my mind there was any occasion, seeing that they are good soldiers and not in the guardroom more often than others. They answered him more freely, no doubt, than they would have done had they not been in their cups.

"They were had up before the colonel the next morning. They had all served their time, and having been greatly angered at their treatment, they at once up and told the colonel that they would take their discharges. The colonel would have pacified them, but Captain Muir stood out strongly, and said that if such insolence as theirs was allowed to go unpunished it would be a bad example indeed for the regiment; so the colonel paid them up to the day and gave them their papers. It has caused a lot of feeling in the regiment, as you may guess, and the men all groaned and booed when Muir came on parade the next day, and it was as much as the colonel himself -- whom they all love as a father -- could do to silence them. It is said that he spoke very sharply to Muir afterwards, and that it is likely the captain will get transferred to another regiment. However, that is too late for the men who have left. Their comrades are going to get up a subscription to send them back to Scotland, for you may be sure the hotheaded fools have not a bawbee of their pay laid by."

"I know them all, sergeant, and I should say they would be the very men to suit me; they are all strong and hearty fellows, and might have been good for another ten years campaigning if it had not been for this business. Can you send for them?"

"They will all be here in half an hour for their meal," the sergeant said. "They are lodged upstairs, for you may be sure that they would come to me; and even if I kept them for six months, I should not have lost much when I reckon what they have spent here during their service. I have no doubt they will jump at the offer; for they were mere lads when they came over -- it was your father who sent for them -- and I know that they reckon they will find none of the old folk when they return home. And now what are your estates like, lad?"

"I know very little about them at present, beyond the fact that I am bound by my feudal obligations to put fifty men in the field when called upon to do so."

"Then it must be a place of good size," the sergeant said. "And you hold it direct from the crown?"

Hector nodded.

"That is good. When you hold from one of the great lords, you never know whom you may be called upon to fight against -- it may be the king, it may be his minister, it may be some other noble -- while holding direct, you have only the king's enemies to fight against."

"Or rather, MacIntosh, the chief minister's enemies; for, after all, when a king signs a proclamation, it is usually a minister's signature that ought to be attached to it."

"Well, well, Master Hector, it makes little difference to us Scots who it is that we fight for, it is no quarrel of ours. We have taken service under the King of France; but when there are two parties, and each claims to be in favour of the king, we have simply to fight for whoever happens to have the king's signature. If they both have it, then it is the general who commands our division who gives us orders, and it matters nought to us whom he takes his orders from."

"At any rate, MacIntosh, it is not for soldiers to inquire too deeply into these matters; if we did, we should have one half of the regiment firing into the other."

"So we should, lad, so we should; therefore we soldiers do wisely in leaving the matter to our officers. If the colonel says 'Charge!' we charge; if he says 'Dismount and take to your musketoons!' we do so, without troubling our heads as to whether it is Germans or Spaniards or Frenchmen whom we have to aim at. Ah, here come your four men!"

As the four troopers entered the cabaret and saw who was speaking to MacIntosh they hesitated, and would have turned, but the sergeant called out, "Attention! salute!" and they stood as motionless as statues till Hector ordered them to stand easy.

"I have been talking about you men to Sergeant MacIntosh, who tells me that you have taken your discharge and the reason for your so doing. I think that you acted hastily; however, that is your affair. The matter that concerns me is this: -- I am appointed colonel of an infantry regiment and I want four good men as orderlies. They will be mounted, and I shall see that they draw rations when there are any rations to be had; but they will be my troopers and not soldiers of the regiment. I want good men, who can be relied upon in any emergency; they will ride behind me in battle, act as scouts if necessary, and they will receive double the pay of ordinary troopers. In peacetime, or when the regiment is in winter quarters, I shall pass my time either in Paris or on my estate in Poitou, and they will of course accompany me. I may tell you that I am now Baron de la Villar, but I should wish to be always addressed as Colonel Campbell. I know you all of old, and that your only failing is somewhat too great a love for the wine flask; that must only be indulged in at times when you are not only off duty, but when there is no possibility of your services being required. Now, what do you think, men; will my service suit you?"

"That it would, sir," burst from them simultaneously.

"Of course, there will be some other advantages beyond that of pay. When the time comes that you get beyond active service in the field, I shall be able to provide you with easier posts at la Villar, and there you will find a comfortable home in your old age, if you prefer to stay with me rather than to return to Scotland."

"No further word need be spoken, colonel," Allan Macpherson said; "we are your men, and shall be proud to follow you, were there no question of pay at all, but just our rations and a home to look forward to when our arms get weak and eyes dim."

"Then, men, if so say you all, the service begins from the present time. You have your armour and headpieces, your doublets and jackboots, so there is not much to buy. I have horses ready for you. You have pistols."

"Yes, we have all pistols and swords, colonel, but the musketoons belonged to the regiment."

"There will be no occasion for you to carry them. Get for yourselves four long cloaks well lined and serviceable -- 'tis best that they should be all of a colour, dark blue or gray -- and broad hats to match the cloaks; have in each a small red feather. I would that you should make a decent show, for we shall start in two hours for Poitou. Here are twenty crowns. See that you have ammunition for your pistols. Be at the Hotel Conde in two hours from the present time. Your dinner here is ready for you, eat heartily, but do not drink too deeply in honour of your new service.

"Now, MacIntosh, I have a word or two further to speak to you."

They went into an inner room.

"Now, old friend, are you tired of this life of keeper of a cabaret? because I shall want you down in Poitou. Your house was mine when I sorely needed it, and mine shall be yours now. You are as yet but fifty-five, and I take it that you can do a man's work still, for you no longer suffer from that wound that disabled you ten years ago. Now, I shall require someone to drill the fifty men who will form my contingent, if all vassals of the king are called upon to take the field. Of course they will not always be under arms; most of them will be the sons of tenants, or substitutes provided by them, and will only give two or three days' service a month. It is probable, however, that half will be regular retainers at the castle. I know nothing about the castle at present, or how large it is, or whether it is defensible or not; still, it was spoken of as a castle, and 'tis, I suppose, one to a certain degree.

"At any rate, I desire that if I do put a troop in the field they shall be as well drilled and as well equipped as are the Scottish regiment of musketeers. I suppose that there must be an official to act as my agent when I am away, and to act as castellan, but in any case the captain of my troop will be in charge of all matters connected with its defence. Now, old friend, the post is yours if you like to take it. As a soldier, none can be better fitted for the post than a sergeant of the Scottish regiment; as a man, there is no one I could rely on better than you. Your duties would not be heavy, your position an honourable one. The castle would be your home as well as mine, and when I am there you would have the four troopers to crack with."

"Your offer is a most kind one," the sergeant said, "but I must think it over in all lights before I answer. I should miss the company of the lads, but already many of my old comrades are gone; most are still in Paris earning with difficulty their bread, some are under the sod, some have returned home. Every year the number who rode with me lessens. They will be countrymen, but no longer comrades. Certainly I have no thought of returning to Scotland, the people are ower gude for me; besides, the country is all in a stir and the folks are flying at each other's throats. I wudna go back, not if they offered me a barony. Then, on the other hand, I misdoubt me how I should feel among strangers -- I don't say foreigners, for I have been so long here that as far as tongue goes I am as much French as I am Scottish. Still, I would rather be forming troopers in your service than drawing stoups of wine, and the young soldiers do not regard me as the old ones did, and grumble if I will draw them no more. Most of all, I should like to be with you and in your service, and to know that I had a home in my old age."

"That you will have whenever you come to claim it, MacIntosh, whether you accept my offer or not. However, I think that what you say is best, and that it would be well for you to think the matter well over and give me no answer until I return. I should be sorry indeed if, after giving up your place here and going down to Poitou, you should regret the exchange. Therefore, we will leave it so. And now I must be going; we must postpone our chat over old times and the regiment until I return."

On returning to Conde's hotel Hector found Paolo awaiting him.

"Paolo, you must go out and buy six horse cloths and five housings; let them be fairly handsome. I have taken four old soldiers into my service, and should wish their horse appointments to be fit for troopers in one of the royal regiments, but without any insignia or cognizance, say maroon with yellow braiding. I shall also want four valises for the men, and bags for carrying forage. You can wrap up the housings that came with the horses; they all bear Enghien's cognizance, and this must be removed before we can use them. The men can strap them behind their valises. Were there pistols in the holsters?"

"Yes, master, they were just as when you rode them."

"It was a princely gift," Hector said, "for the horses are all splendid animals. Have you packed up my things?"

"Yes, master, they are all ready for placing on the sumpter horse. I bought a dozen of good wine, thinking that you might need it on the way, for some of these country auberges keep but poor stuff."

"We are getting luxurious all at once," Hector laughed. "How about my armour?"

"That is also packed up. I thought that you would not care to ride heavily accoutred."

"Certainly not. Which of the horses do you take to be the best?"

"Certainly the one you rode in upon is the best, master, but all four are grand animals. The two I picked up on the battlefield are fine animals also."

"It does not make much matter which I ride now, Paolo; we shall have the opportunity of seeing which has the most fire and endurance as we ride along; and at any rate I shall keep Enghien's four horses for my own riding, keeping two with me and leaving two behind at the castle. I shall buy four strong and serviceable horses for the troopers when I get my first rents, for in sooth my purse is beginning to run very low."

"Possibly, master, when you look in the armoire in your room you may find something to replenish it. One of the cardinal's servants brought a packet for you. I stowed it away and locked the door of your room."

"Well, there is no time to lose, Paolo, so see at once about the matters that I have told you. Here is sufficient money to buy the other goods."

"Here is the key of the room, sir."

Having seen Paolo hurry away, Hector went up to his room. In the armoire he found the packet, which was a heavy one. Opening it, he found a letter and a bag sealed with wax. The letter was from the intendant general. It was directed, "A Monsieur le Baron de la Villar."

"It does not look as if it could be for me," Hector said, with a merry laugh. Breaking the seal he found:

By the order of Monseigneur Cardinal Mazarin, first minister of the crown, I enclose the last half year's rents of the estates of la Villar received by me from the royal intendant in charge of the said estates three weeks since, to defray the necessary expenses that must be incurred by you between the period of your taking possession and, of receiving the next half yearly payment of rents.

Enclosed with this was a formal permit, giving a month's leave of absence to visit his estates, "To Colonel Campbell, Baron de la Villar, commanding the Poitou regiment."

"Very nice and thoughtful on the part of the cardinal," Hector said, "and, moreover, very seasonable, for I was wondering how I should pay the retainers at the castle and my four troopers until the rents began to come in. By the time I had paid the usual fees to the servants here, and the expenses of the journey to Poitou and back, I should have been almost penniless, and should have been obliged to borrow from someone on the strength of my coming rents, which would have been a very bad beginning."

After bidding farewell to Conde, and thanking him for his hospitality, Hector started immediately the midday meal was concluded. His cavalcade made a good show as he rode through the streets of Paris, with the four orderlies behind him, splendidly mounted, followed by Paolo leading another fine horse carrying baggage. The journey was an uneventful one, and on arriving at the castle of Villar, Hector was received by the royal intendant. It was still a place of considerable strength, standing on the crest of a hill. It had been kept in a good state of repair by the intendant, and could offer a stout resistance to anything short of an army provided with a powerful battering train. On making a tour of the estate Hector found that here, as throughout France, an immense amount of distress existed, owing to the crushing taxation rendered necessary by the war; he made minute inquiries of the intendant of the circumstances of the various tenants of the estate.

The officer was about to return to Paris now that his commission was ended, but as he had a son who had acted as his assistant, Hector appointed him in his stead, charging him to press no one unduly. He placed under his care the domestic arrangements of the castle, retaining the servants who had been there under the royal officer. There was only a permanent garrison of twelve men, but this could be raised to a hundred were the tenants of the estates driven to take refuge within the walls. The expenses of keeping up the castle were not large. The rivers afforded an abundance of fish, and the forests on the mountainsides sheltered an ample supply of game. Considerable numbers of half wild sheep and two or three herds of cattle grazed on the domain round the castle, and there were eight good horses in the stables, besides a score of others on the hills. Most of the holdings had vineyards, and were bound to furnish a certain amount of wine to the castle, and as the consumption had been small since the estate was confiscated, the cellars were full. Hector told the steward that the command of the castle itself would be taken by an officer whom he would send down from Paris, who would have control in all matters save in the management of the estate.

Before leaving, he called all the tenants together and told them that, seeing how heavily the royal taxes pressed upon them, he should remit half their annual payments until better times came, and also the fine of a year's rent which they would in the ordinary course of things pay on the appointment of a new lord. The news filled the poor people with delight.

"I shall, however," he went on, "expect that you will render fully and willingly the military service you are bound to give according to the tenure of your holdings. In a short time my castellan will arrive here; he will have instructions from me to make the service as little onerous as possible, and that you shall each furnish your quota of men at times when it may be most convenient for you. I shall, however, expect fifteen men added to the strength of the garrison. These can be changed every eight weeks. All the men capable of bearing arms will come up for training one or two days in each month. I trust that you will never be called upon to defend the castle, but I would have it always kept in such a state that were troubles to arise you could all, with your wives and families, find refuge here and be able to defend yourselves against all attacks.

"Next winter I shall have the fortifications strengthened. I know that you are bound to furnish horses and carts for so many days in the year. I shall want this work performed, but you will be paid both for your own work in building, and for your carts and horses; and as it will be done at a time when there is little farm work on hand, this will be a benefit to you, and the wages will be deducted from the payments that you have to make."

Loud cheers rose from the men, who were overjoyed on learning that their new lord was inclined to deal so generously with them, and especially that the fine, which many of them would have found it impossible to pay, was to be altogether remitted. Having completed all his arrangements Hector returned to Paris, mounting his men on four of the horses he found in the stables, and leaving at the castle two of those which Enghien had given him, and the two Paolo had caught on the field of battle. He arrived on the evening of the day before his leave expired, put up at the auberge of the Pome d'Or, and early the next morning took his way to The Scottish Soldier.