Won by the Sword by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIV: Just in Time
The regiment of Poitou had suffered heavily in the battles of Freiburg. In the first advance Turenne had placed it in the rear of his infantry.
"I must have, Hector," he said, "a reserve upon which I can implicitly rely; brought up at the right moment it might decide the fate of a battle, if we are beaten it can allow the disorganized regiments to pass, check the pursuit of the enemy, and retire in good order, contesting every foot of the ground until the rest of the force have emerged from the mouth of the defile and been enabled to form up in sufficient order to withstand the effect of the enemy's cavalry."
The regiment, therefore, took no part in the work of clearing the defile of the enemy's infantry, and for the first four hours of the battle remained in the rear. Then Turenne ordered it to the front, to take the place of the regiments which had already lost half their strength, and were no longer capable of resisting the continued assaults of the Imperialists. Turenne himself rode with Hector at the head of the regiment. They pushed their way through the hardly pressed troops in front, and when they faced the enemy deployed and poured a terrible volley into their assailants, and for the remaining three hours bore the whole brunt of the battle. Standing four deep, their flanks resting upon the rising ground on either side of the mouth of the pass, the two front lines alone maintained their fire so long as infantry only pressed them, the two lines behind being ordered by Hector not to fire a shot. When, however, the Bavarian infantry drew aside and the cavalry thundered down, the front lines fell back through those behind them, and the latter received the cavalry with such terrible volleys of musketry that they each time broke and fled.
Turenne, after seeing the Poitou regiment take up its post, occupied himself in reforming the remains of the other regiments, and raising their spirits by warm words of commendation at the manner in which they had fought, until assured that they in turn could, if necessary, join the first line if it were forced to give way. When he had done this he rejoined Hector, who had dismounted and moved backwards and forwards among the men, seeing that the gaps caused by the enemy's fire were constantly filled up, and encouraging the soldiers with praise and exhortations. Turenne sat upon his horse some paces behind the rear line. When he saw the Bavarian infantry draw aside, and heard the roar of the cavalry charge, his lips tightened, and he half turned his horse as if to call up the regiments behind. When, however, he saw the lines that had hitherto been in rear take up their place in front and stand there quiet and immovable, the look of irresolution passed from his face, and, after the Bavarian horse had fallen back, shattered by their volleys, he pressed a pace or two forward and shouted, "Regiment of Poitou, I thank you in the name of France; never saw I a regiment fight more bravely or steadily!"
The men responded with a loud cheer to this praise from one whom all respected and loved. Turenne then rode up to Hector.
"Splendidly done, Colonel Campbell! I had rather wondered why you kept half your men idle in such a fight; I now understand why you did so. Had all been firing, three-quarters of their muskets would have been empty, and you would possibly have been overthrown. It was a stroke of genius. I may have taught you many lessons in war, but tonight you have given me one."
Turenne remained with the regiment till the end of the fight, and marked with approval the way in which each line fought by turns, while the other remained behind them ready to receive the charges of the cavalry. As soon as the Bavarians drew off he saw that all the wounded were carried to the rear, where the surgeons rendered what aid was possible, while the rest of the troops threw themselves down to snatch a few hours' sleep. When, three hours later, Enghien's troops came down from the hill they had won, Turenne's force marched out from the defile. Turenne mounted his horse, and, calling upon Hector to follow him, rode forward with his principal officers to meet Enghien.
"It has been a terrible battle, prince, and if your loss equals mine the victory has indeed been won at a terrible cost."
"Mine has been heavy, too," Enghien said, "but we have gained our object."
"Not wholly," Turenne replied, "for Merci has taken up a position as strong as that from which we have driven him."
"I wish that I could have lent you a hand in the fight," Enghien said, "but the Bavarians had fallen back into the woods, and we knew not whether they still held their ground there. In the rain and darkness it would have been dangerous to have crossed the broken ground with its woods and ravines, and the troops, after their exertions and heavy marches, were incapable of such an effort. Indeed, I had lost fully half my infantry, and the cavalry would be useless for such work. You must indeed have been sorely pressed, having Merci's whole force to contend with. Still, I had no doubt even if you could not issue from the defile you would be able to check the enemy." Then the generals in turn repeated the details of the battles in which they had been engaged and the losses they had suffered.
Turenne then introduced his principal officers to Enghien, and when he had done so called up Hector.
"I need not introduce this officer to you, prince," he said.
"No, indeed," Enghien replied, holding out his hand; "I have good reason to recollect you, Colonel Campbell. You have heard, marshal, what a good service he rendered me at Rocroi?"
"He has rendered me one no less this night," Turenne said. "I never saw a regiment stand more steadily than the one which he commands, and which he has trained to what seems to me perfection. For the last three hours that regiment alone bore the brunt of the battle, although assailed alternately by infantry and cavalry, and thus afforded time to reform the regiments that fought earlier in the afternoon and to give me hope that even were the enemy to overcome the resistance of his men, I could still be able to check their further advance."
He then told Enghien the manner in which Hector had arranged and fought his troops.
"A good device indeed," Enghien said warmly, "and methinks it worthy of adoption whenever infantry have to meet other infantry and cavalry, for the muskets take so long to reload that there might not be half a dozen men ready to give fire when the cavalry charge. Is that one of the many lessons that he tells me you have given him?"
"No, indeed; it has not, so far as I am aware, ever been tried before. Parts of regiments are often held in reserve to reinforce their comrades if necessary, but this method, whereby half the regiment are able at a moment's notice to meet cavalry with their muskets loaded, is methinks, entirely new, and in such cases as the present very valuable."
In the second day's fighting Turenne's army had taken but small share, for during the retreat of the Bavarians the cavalry alone had come into play.
The Bavarians having retreated into Wurtemberg, a council of war was held to decide in what manner the greatest advantage could be gained during their absence. Most of the chief officers were in favour of retaking Freiburg. Turenne was of a different opinion. He represented that the siege would occupy a considerable time, and that if successful they would, at the end of a campaign, have simply retaken a town that was theirs when it began. They could therefore point to no advantage gained by their efforts or by the loss of so many men. He advised, therefore, that as the Bavarian army was now sixty miles away, and could not very well return, as it would need large reinforcements, fresh cannon, and baggage wagons, they should take the opportunity of making themselves masters of the whole course of the Rhine and even of the Palatinate.
The Duc d'Enghien declared for this plan. Turenne went at once to Breisach, and arranged for the transport, by boat down the Rhine, of all the necessaries for the siege of Philippsburg. The army started on the 16th of August, a part of Turenne's army being detached to capture small towns and castles. On the 23rd of August Philippsburg was invested by Turenne, Enghien's force arriving on the following day. Philippsburg stood on the Rhine, which at this point formed a sharp elbow, and the land being low, many morasses surrounded the town, and the approach therefore was exceedingly difficult. Eight hundred paces from the town stood a square fort, which commanded the river, and was connected with the town by a causeway. The town itself had seven bastions, round these ran a very thick hedge, and the moat was wide and full of water. The garrison was a weak one, not exceeding a thousand men, but they had a hundred pieces of cannon and a large store of ammunition.
Feeling that he could not hold a fort so far from the town, the commander withdrew the garrison from it, and Turenne seized it, and placed a strong force there. Enghien then threw up strong lines in a semicircle round the town to protect the army in case any large force of the enemy should endeavour to relieve it. This occupied four days, and in the meantime the boats had arrived with cannon, ammunition, and provisions. A bridge was thrown across the river in twenty-four hours, and a force was sent over; this attacked and captured Germersheim, and then marched to Spires, which at once opened its gates on the 29th of August. In the meantime the siege of Philippsburg was begun in earnest. The approaches could only be carried on in one place, where the ground was sandy, and continued so up to two of the bastions of the town.
Turenne commanded the attack against the right bastion, de Gramont that on the left. They first diverted a brook running through the plain, and were enabled to use its channel as an approach, thus advancing fifteen hundred paces nearer to the town. They then formed an intrenchment that could be used by both columns, and from this on the 1st of September they began to open their trenches against their respective bastions. De Gramont's works were attacked on the following day by a sortie; this, however, was driven back. On the fifth night both columns made a lodgment on the counterscarp, and their batteries opened fire. After some days' work they filled up the ditch, and seeing that his force was too weak to oppose so strong an attack, the commander surrendered on the 12th of September.
Although Merci was advancing with an army, Enghien continued the project that had been formed, and, remaining with his own troops to protect Philippsburg, sent Turenne with all his horse and five hundred foot to Worms, which threw open its gates. Oppenheim surrendered without resistance, and he arrived in front of Mayence. The garrison was very small, and upon the threat of Turenne that he would attack it on all sides the citizens sent a deputation offering to capitulate. Turenne sent word of this to Enghien, who rode there at once, and received the surrender of the town. Bingen capitulated; Landor, Mannheim, Neustadt, and several other places were taken; and thus from Strasburg to a point near Coblenz, the whole course of the Rhine, the Palatine, and all the country between the Rhine and the Moselle fell into the hands of the French. Enghien returned to pass the winter in Paris. The greater part of the army was recalled, and Turenne was left with but a few regiments to hold the newly acquired territory.
"Do you wish for leave, Campbell?" Turenne asked Hector. "You had but a few days in your new lordship, and have a right to spend at least a portion of the winter there."
"I thank you, marshal, but I have no idea of leaving you. You have been good enough to say that you will fill up the gaps in my regiment by embodying in it the remains of the regiment of Ardennes, which will bring it up to nearly its former strength. I certainly should not like to be away while the work of fusion is being carried out. The new men must be divided equally among the companies, and the officers so arranged that one of those now appointed shall be attached to each company with two of my own. Then I must see that all so work together as to arrive at the same standard as before. I should have wished that if possible the captains of the Ardennes regiment should be appointed to the new regiment that you are about to form, and that the places of those who fell in action should be filled from my list of lieutenants."
"Certainly. You lost five captains, did you not?"
"If you send me the names of the five senior lieutenants, I will promote them at once."
"Thank you, marshal; that will make all my lieutenants captains. I lost five of them and three second lieutenants."
"Then you will require thirteen more officers." He looked at a list. "There are eight belonging to the Ardennes, the rest I will draw from other regiments. There is little fear of their objecting to the exchange, for your corps won such a reputation that all will be glad to join it; I will send you back to Nancy. There are barracks there, and no other troops; and as we are not likely to be disturbed until the spring, you will have plenty of time to bring the regiment up to its former mark."
The winter, indeed, passed quietly. The officers were all greatly pleased when they heard the arrangements Hector had made, by which most of them obtained a step in rank instead of being, as they had feared, passed over by officers belonging to the Ardennes regiment. The battle of Freiburg had shown them the great advantage that had been gained by the steadiness and discipline of their men. They took up the work of drilling again with even more zeal than before, and it was not long before the regiment was restored to its former state of efficiency. The reason why he had sent the regiment back from the Rhine was explained by Turenne to Hector before he started.
"The orders from court were," he said, "that I was to retain only the Weimar regiments, and I should have been obliged to send you back with those of Enghien had I not represented to him that it might be of the greatest importance to me to have even one good French regiment within call. We talked it over at some length, and he finally agreed to take upon himself the responsibility of ordering that your regiment should not go beyond Nancy, upon the ground that there were very few troops in Lorraine; and that peasant risings had taken place there, as in other departments, owing to the terrible distress caused by heavy taxation. He has handed to me a paper authorizing you to take such steps as you may think fit, as soon as you receive news of such risings, to aid the civil authorities, if they should take place at any point within reasonable reach. The regiments stationed at Metz will naturally maintain order north of Pont-a-Mousson, while you will send detachments to points south and east of Nancy. You will understand that you are not to move troops on the strength of mere rumours, but only when requests for aid are sent by local authorities."
Indeed, during the winter of 1644-45, as in that preceding it, troubles broke out in many parts of France, and in some the risings of "the barefooted ones," as they were called, became for a time very formidable. The rage of the unhappy peasantry was principally directed, as during the Jacquerie, against the nobles, and any chateaux were sacked and burned, all within killed, and terrible excesses committed.
In February serious outbreaks took place. A messenger arrived at Nancy with an urgent appeal for help, and Hector took four companies and marched with all speed to the disturbed district. As soon as he reached it he broke up his force, despatching each company in a different direction, his instructions being that any body of armed peasants they might meet were to be dispersed, but, once beaten, were not to be pursued and cut up, and that life was not to be unnecessarily sacrificed. He himself, with one company, marched towards Poissons. He was within a mile of the town when a mounted man, bleeding from several wounds, rode up.
"The chateau of Blenfoix has been attacked by two hundred peasants," he said. "My lady and a dozen retainers are holding a tower, but they cannot long resist; even now the place may have been captured. I broke my way through, and, hearing that there were troops in this direction, I have galloped at full speed to implore your aid."
"How far is it?"
"About ten miles."
"You hear, de Mieville; bring the men on with all speed. I will gallop forward with my troopers and do what I can. Do I go straight along the road?"
"Yes, sir, nine miles hence you will see the chateau on an eminence a mile away to the right."
Followed by his troopers and Paolo, Hector dashed off at full speed. In three quarters of an hour, at a turn of the road, they caught sight of the chateau. Flames were pouring through most of the windows.
"Now, lads," he said to the men, "we have got long odds to face, but there is a lady to be rescued, and if any men can accomplish it we will."
The chateau was partly castellated, the new portion having been built against what had formerly been a small castle. On its summit a flag was still flying. Riding on at the top of their speed they soon saw a number of men swarming round a gate which opened into the older portion of the building.
"Put your pistols in your belts, lads. Don't use them if you can help it, but trust to your swords. Cut your way through that crowd. Ride in at the gate, and dismount at the door leading up to the turret. Then do you, Macpherson and Hunter, cover our rear while we fight our way up the steps. Follow us as we go, and if you want aid, shout and we will come down to you."
On hearing the sound of the galloping hoofs the peasants for a moment made a movement of retreat, but when they saw that the six horsemen were alone, they began to gather courage, and again waved their arms, which were mostly axes, or poles to which scythes or billhooks were attached. Riding three abreast, the horsemen burst in among them, hewing and hacking with their swords; and the crowd, unable to resist the impetus of the charge, opened a way for them, and in a moment they had passed through the gate. A group of men round an open door that marked the position of the turret stairs, scattered with cries of alarm as they galloped up. In a moment they sprang from their horses and entered the doorway. The stairs were narrow, and but one man could mount and use his weapons at a time. They were, however, densely packed with men.
Hector sprang up, closely followed by the others. The resistance was feeble, for the height above the winding steps was but six feet, and insufficient for the use of either axes or longer weapons. Many of the peasants, astounded at seeing the armed men mounting from below them, and wholly ignorant of their numbers, threw down their weapons and cried for mercy. Hector contented himself with pushing past them, and running his sword through any who showed signs of resistance. One or two men armed with rough pikes made a stand; these he shot, and pressed upwards until within some twenty feet of the top, when the peasants, half maddened at finding themselves caught, rushed down in a body. "Close up!" he shouted to his followers. These pressed close up to him, but the weight was too much for them, and they were borne by the rush backwards down the stairs, when the peasants darted out through the door. Hector had received several knife cuts on the shoulder and arms, and would have suffered still more severely had not Paolo and Nicholl, who were next to him, thrust their pistols over his shoulder and shot his assailants, whose bodies, borne along by the pressure from behind, protected him from the blows of those above them.
"Are you hurt badly, master?" Paolo exclaimed as they stood breathless for a moment at the bottom of the stairs.
"No, I think not; my gorget saved my neck; I have four or five cuts on the shoulders, but they are mere flesh wounds. Now let us mount the stairs; the men must have made a stout defence indeed to have held out so long."
The upper part of the stairs was indeed almost blocked with dead bodies. At the top of the stairs stood two men with axes, which they lowered as soon as they saw Hector.
"You have made a brave stand," he said, "in defence of your mistress."
"You have arrived but just in time, monsieur, for we are the last two left, and though we might have accounted for a few more, another five minutes would have finished it."
Stepping out on the platform at the top of the tower, Hector saw a lady leaning against the battlements; she was deadly pale, but her face still bore a look of calm determination. In her hands she held a dagger; clinging to her was a girl of some fifteen years of age.
"Thank God, madam, that we have arrived in time!" Hector exclaimed.
"Just in time, monsieur; we had given up all hope, when, as if sent by God, we saw your little band appear riding towards us. Even then I hardly ventured to hope; it seemed well nigh impossible that six men should be able to clear a way through so many. Only two of my faithful retainers still held the stairs, and it was but too evident that these could not resist much longer; when one more had fallen I had resolved to plunge this dagger into my daughter's heart and then into my own. Death would have been a thousand times preferable to falling into the hands of these wretches."
"How long have you been beleaguered, madam?"
"My men have been fighting for four hours. For upwards of three hours they did well, for the peasants, being unable to use their weapons, frequently drew back. Then they hit upon the device of fastening a hook to the end of a pole, and, catching this round the leg of one of the defenders, dragged him down, and then despatched him with their knives. One by one four of my men were killed. For the last half hour the two who remained stood back, one at each side of the doorway, so that they could not be so entrapped, and slew those who, mounting the stairs, tried to rush past them. Both were sorely spent, and the end must have come soon had you not appeared. Whom have I to thank for this unlooked for deliverance?"
"I am Colonel Campbell, Baron de la Villar," Hector replied, "and have the honour to command his majesty's regiment of Poitou."
"Your name is not French," the lady said.
"No, madam, I am a Scotchman."
"Then," the lady said, speaking in English, "I must claim you as a countryman, for I am Irish. My husband was an officer in the army of the Duke of Lorraine; he was killed in a skirmish four years ago, and a year later I married the Baron of Blenfoix, and was again widowed at the battle of Freiburg, where my husband, who had followed the fortunes of the Duke of Lorraine, his feudal lord, fell fighting by the side of General Merci. This is my daughter Norah. But I see that you are wounded," she went on as Hector bowed to the young lady.
"Not seriously, madam; but I feel somewhat faint from loss of blood, and will remove my helmet. As it turned out," he went on somewhat faintly, "it was unfortunate that I did not put on my body armour; but I had not anticipated hard fighting, and preferred to ride without it. Thanks for your offer, lady, but my men will see to me, they are all of them pretty well accustomed to the bandaging of wounds."
He was now, indeed, almost too faint to stand, and Paolo and Nicholl seated him against a battlement, and then proceeded to take off his upper garments and examine his wounds. They were all at the back of the shoulder, as his assailants, pressed closely against him, were unable to strike him in front. The lady tore some strips off her garment and assisted in bandaging the wound, being, as she said, well accustomed to such matters.
"Is all quiet on the stairs?" Hector inquired of the two men whom he had placed on guard there.
"Save for the sound of some groans all is still, colonel," Hunter replied. "Methinks that after being withstood for four hours by six retainers they are not likely to make a fresh attempt against six well armed men.
"What are they doing, Macpherson?"
"They are gathered in front of the chateau, sir. A large number of things were dragged out before the flames reached them, and at present they seem to be quarrelling over the division of them. They have got some barrels of wine out of the cellars and are making free with them."
"So much the better," Hector said. "The company will be up in half an hour at latest, and will give them a lesson unless they move away before that; and now that they have taken to drinking they are not likely to do so."
The bandaging of his wounds being now completed, Hector was assisted to his feet.
"I grieve, madam," he said, "that I did not arrive in time to prevent the chateau being burned."
"The loss is not mine; my husband's estates were confiscated when he crossed into Germany with the duke, and were some ten months ago granted to a Monsieur de Thours, a relative of the Prince of Conde; but he sent me a courteous letter to say that as he was serving with the Duc d'Enghien, I was welcome to continue to occupy the chateau until the war was over, receiving the rents as his chatelaine, paying the retainers, and keeping up the establishment, and sending the surplus to his agents at Nancy. This I was glad to do, for, indeed, had it not been for his kind offer my daughter and I would scarcely have known whither to go, as my husband expended his last crown in equipping a force for the service of the duke."
At this moment Macpherson exclaimed:
"I see the head of a company mounting the slope, colonel."
"Yes, and there is Captain Mieville. Ah! he has halted the men, and is riding forward alone to take in the situation. I hope that the peasants won't catch sight of him." When Mieville reached a point where he could obtain a view of the front of the chateau he checked his horse, and after surveying the scene for a minute rode back to the company. A movement was at once visible.
"He is extending them on each side," Hector said. "That is good. He is going to inclose the peasants, and as from the slope in the ground they cannot see the troops until they are within a hundred yards, he will catch them in a trap."
The company moved round, in fact, until they had formed almost a semicircle, then they advanced, closing in as they neared the house. When they reached the spot where they could be seen by the peasants a trumpet sounded and they ran in. The peasants, bewildered at seeing the line of soldiers closing in around them, hesitated. Some were already too drunk to rise from the ground on which they had thrown themselves, the others caught up their arms and ran together. Retreat was impossible, for behind them was the burning house. Suddenly a stream of fire burst from the semicircle of troops. Some thirty of the insurgents fell, the others threw down their arms and fell upon their knees crying for mercy. The troops were rushing forward to finish their work, when Hector shouted "Halt!"
"De Mieville," he said, as the officer rode up towards the tower, "do not shed more blood. Thirty at least have fallen in their attack on this turret, besides those who have been killed by your fire. Take the rest, disarm them all, let the men cut some stout switches and give every man twenty blows well laid on the back, and then let them go. Before you do so, send a dozen of them to clear the staircase and to draw some buckets of water from the well and sluice the steps down. Paolo, do you run down and find a vessel of some sort and a goblet or horn, and bring up some wine from one of those barrels. The ladies sorely need something after what they have gone through, and I myself shall be all the better for it, for the loss of blood has given me a raging thirst."
Paolo had no difficulty in carrying out the order. The rioters had brought out several pails for holding the wine, a score of silver cups and other vessels lay where they had been dropped when the soldiers appeared, and the officer had placed two men on guard over them. Paolo thoughtfully brought up a pail of water as well as of wine. The ladies drank a little wine and water, while Hector took a long draught, and made the two retainers who had fought so stoutly, and his own men, do the same. In half an hour the staircase was cleared and washed down, and the party then descended. The baroness had told Hector that for the present at any rate she would go to Nancy, and would report to the new lord's agents there what had happened, and doubtless he would send a man to take charge of the place.
"These cups," she said, "were all the personal property of my husband, and I am therefore free to take them. Many of them have been in his family for a very long time. Their sale will enable me to live until I can form some plans for the future."
The several silver vessels were collected and wrapped up ready for transport in some of the hangings that the rioters had torn down. An outhouse adjoining the keep was cleared out and thickly spread with rushes for the accommodation of the baroness and her daughter. The troops had already had a very long march, and it was out of the question that they could return to Nancy that night. Fires were lighted in front of the house, and the soldiers prepared to bivouac there. Three of the troopers were sent off with orders to the captains of the other three companies to concentrate the next morning at a village on the line that would be taken on their return march. Some men were sent down to the little town of Blenfoix to purchase bread and meat, together with torches and other necessaries. At nightfall Hector posted sentinels, as he considered it quite possible that the peasants would raise the country for some distance round and try to take vengeance for the loss they had suffered. When Paolo took some supper round to the two ladies, he returned with a message that they hoped Colonel Campbell would join them in their meal.
"See that the sentries are on the alert, Mieville," he said as he got up from the fire round which he and the three officers were sitting; "you must remember that these poor fellows are desperate. Of course you and I know that they can do themselves no good by attacking castles and burning chateaux, but were we in their place -- famished, despairing, and ignorant -- we should doubtless do the same. And although, with men as well disciplined as ours, there would be little chance of the peasants overpowering us, they may trust in their numbers, and would believe that if they could destroy us, the whole country might well rise and join them. Should there be any sign of trouble, call me instantly."
Two sentries had been placed at the door of the outhouse, and as he entered Hector said, "Keep good watch, men, and if you hear any noise that might betoken the approach of a body of men, warn me at once."
"I heard what you said to the sentries, Colonel Campbell; do you think that there is any danger?"
"No danger, I trust, madam, for I am convinced that we could beat off any number. Still, I do think that there is a possibility of our being attacked. The peasants know that we are but a company. They may send to all the villages round and call on them to come and revenge those who have been slain. The people of the hills are strong fellows -- wood cutters, charcoal burners, and shepherds -- and there can be no doubt that they suffer terribly from the enormous taxation. I have seen it on my own estate in Poitou, and can make every allowance for them. In many cases the amounts they are adjudged to pay are absolutely greater than their whole income. They are forced to live upon bread made of bran and sawdust, to eat acorns and beechnuts; they are gaunt with hunger; they see their children dying before their eyes. They know not how their sufferings arise, they only know that they suffer, and in their despair they turn like hungry wolves against all who are better off than themselves."
"And your people, are they suffering as much as these, monsieur?"
"Not quite so much, perhaps, but they are suffering. I have spent but a fortnight on my estates, of which I have only been master for a year."
"And could you do nothing for them, monsieur?" the girl asked.
"I did what I could, mademoiselle. I remitted half their rents, which was in fact but a small thing, seeing that I knew positively they could not have paid them. Still it was no doubt some alleviation to know that the arrears were not being piled up against them. As to the other half, I told my intendant not to press any whom he thought could not pay, and that if he drew enough to pay his own salary and the wages of the retainers I should be content -- for my pay as colonel is ample for my own wants."
"You are very young to be a colonel, Monsieur Campbell," the baroness said.
"Very young; but I have had singularly good fortune, and have been happy enough to please both Marshal Turenne and the Duc d'Enghien."
"And you have served under them both?" she said in surprise.
"I have had that good fortune. I was with Turenne for nearly four years in Italy, and fought under Enghien at Rocroi, and I may say under both of them at Freiburg."
"What is the name of your regiment, monsieur?"
"The Poitou regiment."
"Indeed!" she exclaimed. "Of course, we have heard all the particulars of the battle; and it was said that General Merci would have beaten Monsieur Turenne back had it not been for the Poitou regiment, commanded by a Scottish colonel, and said to be the finest under the command of the French generals. They say it stood for three hours against the attacks of the whole Bavarian army."
"We were in a strong position," Hector said quietly, "at the mouth of a defile, so that no more than our own numbers could attack us at once. However, l am proud of the conduct of my men; none could have fought more steadily than they did."
"My husband was killed in the battle against Enghien's army on the hill. I am glad that it was not by your regiment, monsieur."
"I am glad too, madam."
"These wars are terrible, and we of Lorraine -- lying between France and Germany -- suffer whichever wins. Fortunately we lie at a distance from the roads that the armies follow, and therefore have escaped the devastation caused all along the line of march. Nevertheless we have the sadness of knowing that in the field neighbours must fight against neighbours, and kinsmen against kinsmen, for since the duke fled many of our nobles, seeing that the country has now become part of France, have joined her, while others, like my husband, followed the duke into Germany. However, as an Irishwoman it matters little to me now which is the victor."
"Do you think of returning home, madam?"
"As to that, I have not yet made up my mind. The land there is as distracted as is France by civil war. It is sixteen years since I left Ireland with my husband, a few months after our marriage. I was an orphan, and have no near relations to whom I can go, therefore it matters little to me whether I live in France or Ireland, so that I can see some way of earning my own living and that of my daughter. With economy, the sale of the silver would suffice to keep us for three or four years, and long before that I hope that I shall be able in some way to earn my living."
Hector sat silent for two or three minutes. "It seems to me, madam," he said at last, "that it would be better that you should not spend the proceeds of your silver before looking for a post. I can offer you one at once, if you will accept it."
"You, monsieur!" she exclaimed in surprise.
"Yes, madam. It is bad for the vassals and tenants of a noble -- even though a newly made one, and on an estate of moderate dimensions -- when their lord is absent, and there is none to look after them save an intendant, whose duty it is to collect as much rent as he is able. Such is the position of my tenants. I am a soldier, and must perforce be absent. What I need greatly is someone who will fill my place in this respect. I have an old friend who is captain of the garrison, and sees to all things in the household; I have an intendant, I believe a worthy young man, who collects my rents and looks to the feeding and needs of the servants and garrison; but I need someone who would interest herself actively in the condition of my tenants, who would be a friend to them in sickness, would give aid from my purse to those who really need it, would send food to the starving, and aid my intendant by advising him as to who are worthy of relief and who are suffering from their own idleness or thriftlessness -- who will, in short, act as I would have my wife act had I one.
"Now, madame la baronne if you will honour me by making my home yours so long as I am away at the wars, which may last, for aught I know, for years yet, you will be conferring a great favour upon me. You will have your own suite of apartments, where your meals will be served to you. You will have horses to ride. You will relieve my intendant of the necessity of seeing that the servants perform their duties, and give him more time to devote himself to the business of the estate, and will in fact act as chatelaine, save only in matters connected with the garrison in the defence of the castle."
"Your offer is kind in the extreme, Colonel Campbell, but I could not accept it," she said. "You are only inventing such an office in order to give a home to me and Norah."
"I can assure you, madam, that the thought is not a new one to me -- I have often wished that there was a lady in the castle. One who would see after the wives and families of the vassals; and I should feel myself under a real obligation to you if you would fill the place. You see, madam, it would cost me nothing, for food and drink there is in abundance. I have two splendid horses, given me by the Duc d'Enghien, standing idle in their stalls. I shall be happy in knowing that my tenants would be well looked after, and shall be glad indeed that you and your daughter, my countrywomen, should, for the present at any rate, have a home."
The tears were streaming down the lady's face.
"Accept, mother," the girl said, putting her hand on her shoulder. "Surely God sent this gentleman to our rescue when we were very near death. Why should we not accept this fresh kindness at his hands?"
Her mother looked up. "My daughter has chosen for me, Colonel Campbell. I accept your offer with the deepest thankfulness. Were I to refuse now, the time might come when I should be reduced to such straits that for my daughter's sake I should bitterly regret that I had refused your generous offer; therefore I accept it, and thank you from the bottom of my heart."
"I do not wish you to see it in that light," he said with a smile. "At best it is but an arrangement for our mutual advantage, and I, on my part, thank you and mademoiselle most heartily for falling in with my wishes."