Won by the Sword by G. A. Henty
Chapter III: The First Battle
During the three days that were spent in reconnoitering the country Hector Campbell learnt more than he would have done in as many years under ordinary circumstances. Turenne took the greatest pains to point out to him how the nature of the ground could be taken advantage of, how flanks could be protected against attack by comparatively small bodies, occupying positions from which they could be with difficulty expelled; how important was the action of guns, especially when so placed as to be able to sweep the ground across which an enemy must advance in any endeavour to turn the position of an army. Turenne, on his part, took pleasure in instructing a pupil who was at once so eager to learn, and who showed himself so apt in profiting by his teaching.
"You see," he said, "I am concerned rather in defensive positions at present than in seeing how we could best turn an enemy barring our advance. Although the greater portion of the dominions of the duchess has fallen into the hands of the enemy, she is fortunate in that the few places that remain are those that at once enable her to make a defence with comparatively small forces; and at the same time, it is possible for her to receive aid from France, or, if absolutely necessary, for her to fall back across the Alps. Susa, her headquarters, lying at the mouth of the valley up which the road over Mount Cenis finds its way, at once guards the pass and keeps open communication with France.
"It is, as it were, the handle of a fan, and can be approached by three main roads only, -- those to Turin, Carignano, and Chivasso. Unfortunately Turin is in the enemy's hands, but as the duchess's troops still hold the citadel, an advance could not very well be made until that has fallen. Chivasso and Carignano are safe from any sudden attack. There are other minor roads, but so long as these towns are in our hands and held by strong garrisons, an enemy advancing by any of these roads towards Susa would be liable to have their communications cut, and their convoys captured by parties from these fortresses. It has long been a fixed idea in military operations that an army cannot advance as long as a town near the line of route is held by the enemy. That idea is an erroneous one, and several times upon the Rhine we have gained successes by neglecting this rule and disregarding the towns, contenting ourselves with leaving a force sufficient to keep the garrison in check.
"The Spaniards, however, are slow to change their tactics, good soldiers as they are. The consequence is that, although greatly superior in force, last year they made no offensive movement against us. We have had several regiments join us since we arrived here, and although I believe the enemy's force to be twice as strong as our own, I have no doubt that the Count d'Harcourt will as soon as he arrives decide upon taking the offensive. You see our position here, guarded as it is on both flanks by the line of mountains, is as favourable for offence as defence, for we can advance either through Carignano on our right or Chivasso on our left; and however the enemy may dispose themselves they are vulnerable on one side or the other."
This anticipation was justified. D'Harcourt arrived three days later. A council of war was held, and it was decided that an advance should at once be made against the enemy. The main body of the Spanish troops were posted in a fortified camp at Villanova, halfway between Asti and Turin. Leaving only a small body of troops to guard the lower valley of Susa from an attack by the Spaniards at Turin, the army advanced to Carignano, and thence towards Villanova. The Spaniards, however, although nearly twice as strong as the French, were so much surprised at the boldness of this proceeding that instead of marching out to give battle they contented themselves with strengthening still further the defences of their camp, and in order to force them to come out d'Harcourt advanced to Chieri -- called by the French Quiers -- a town situated between Villanova and Turin, and about two leagues distant from each.
Turenne was in command of the cavalry, and took post between Chieri and Villanova. The Spaniards, however, made no effort to relieve the town, which capitulated after a resistance of only two or three days. While the siege was proceeding, a large convoy of provisions succeeded, unmolested, in making its way to Casale, and thus placed the garrison there in a position to hold out for several weeks to come. But a very small store of provisions was found in Chieri, and the army was forced to fall back towards Carignano to obtain food from the stores collected there. The Marquis of Leganez, whose headquarters were at Asti, knowing that the French had sent all the stores they had brought with them to Casale, had foreseen that this would be the case, and advancing rapidly with the troops from Villanova seized Poirino, on the line by which the French would retire, while at the same time Prince Thomas, who commanded at Turin, advanced with the greater portion of his troops, and marched towards the little river Santina, intending to cross there. Thus the French army could not retire on Carignano without exposing both flanks to the attack of the enemy.
During the short campaign Hector had ridden behind Turenne, and shared in the general disappointment of the army when the enemy refused to accept their offer of battle, and still more so when after the capture of Chieri it became necessary to retreat. His two fellow aides-de-camp loudly bewailed the bad fortune that thus obliged them to retire without having effected anything beyond the capture of an insignificant town, which, however, had the advantage of opening a way for them into the heart of the country then held by the enemy.
"You seem to take it rather philosophically, Campbell," de Lisle said to Hector, as he remained silent while they were bemoaning their fate.
"I do not see that it is of any use taking it otherwise. At least we have had the satisfaction of bearding the Spaniards, who indeed seem to me to behave wisely in remaining in their intrenchments and waiting until they can unite all their forces against us. However, we have shown them that we are not afraid of them, and that even in the middle of November we are so eager to meet them that we have hastened to take the field and to strike a blow before winter sets in in earnest; but I think it possible that we may have a fight yet before we get back. Leganez has the reputation of being a good general, and he may yet combine his troops at Asti with those of Villanova and Turin and try to cut us off from Carignano." At this moment Turenne suddenly entered the room.
"To horse, gentlemen! News has come that Prince Thomas is marching at the head of three thousand foot and fifteen hundred horse to cut us off, and that Leganez is moving with all speed towards Poirino with the same object. Carry my orders for a thousand cavalry and as many infantry to be ready to march at once. We must be beforehand with Prince Thomas."
In ten minutes the cavalry and infantry selected were in movement, and Turenne, placing himself at the head of the former, rode on at a gallop, and keeping on at full speed with his cavalry, occupied the bridge before Prince Thomas came up. On his arrival, the latter, having with him three thousand foot and fifteen hundred horse, prepared to attack, but before he did so Turenne's infantry arrived. The Spaniards attacked with fury, but Turenne's troops stood firm and repulsed them, and as soon as they fell back charged in turn, broke the enemy, and drove them in headlong rout towards Turin. Prince Thomas himself was twice unhorsed and thrown into a ditch, but it was now almost dark, his rank was unrecognized, and he succeeded in making his escape and rejoining his scattered troops.
While this fight was going on, d'Harcourt had attacked the Marquis of Leganez and gained a considerable advantage, but not knowing how the fight was going on at Santina did not venture to advance towards the Po. As soon, however, as a messenger from Turenne brought him news that Prince Thomas had been defeated he continued his march towards Carignano. He was speedily joined by Turenne's horse, which took up the duty of rear guard and checked the Spaniards, who were pressing on in hopes of attacking the French as they crossed the river. He held them at bay until d'Harcourt had got all his guns and baggage wagons across the river, and then, following him, broke down the bridge and joined him at Carignano. Here the army went into winter quarters.
D'Harcourt, whose health was bad, retired to pass the winter at Pinerolo, leaving the command in the hands of Turenne, who again established himself at Susa, and began to make preparations for throwing a convoy of provisions into the citadel of Turin.
During the fight at Santina Hector remained behind Turenne, while the two young Frenchmen, carried away by their ardour, joined in the hot pursuit of the enemy. The prince, who had led the charge, had halted.
"Are you alone here, Monsieur Campbell?"
"Where are de Lisle and Chavigny?"
"They rode on with the cavalry, sir."
"You have done well to remain. An aide-de-camp's place is to carry orders, not to fight. Now, sir, ride at once to the count. I hear his battle is still going on. Tell him that I have defeated and scattered the troops of the prince, and that as soon as I can gather my men I shall march to join him."
Hector bowed, turned his horse and galloped off, while the general rode on, sending every officer he overtook in search of the cavalry with orders that they were to abandon the pursuit and return instantly. That evening after they had entered Carignano he called de Lisle and Chavigny into his room.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you will have to choose whether you remain with me or join one of the cavalry regiments. If you remain with me, you must bear in mind in future that you are my aides-de-camp, and that your sole duty here is to carry my orders, and not to fight like troopers in a battle. It is through hotheadedness of this sort that battles are lost. A general, without officers to carry his orders, can do nothing towards controlling the movements of his troops in battle, of following up a victory or covering a defeat."
The two young officers hung their heads and murmured their excuses.
"Enough, gentlemen," Turenne said. "I am perfectly aware that it was your ardour that carried you away, but ardour is a bad leader. Over and over again the ardour of cavalry to pursue the troops they have defeated has brought about the loss of a battle. Courage is a virtue, and most soldiers possess it, but steadiness and coolness are rarer and more useful, and on the part of officers on a general's staff are absolutely indispensable. I doubt not that you will remember this in future, and that I shall not have reason to complain of you again."
The next morning it was Hector's turn to be in attendance on the general.
"You behaved as I expected you would do," Turenne said, when he entered his room on hearing the bell sound. "You fought close to me as long as there was fighting to be done, and I observed that you used your sword well. The moment I drew rein you did the same, and took up your post behind me, showing that although this was your first battle you retained your coolness. I will therefore tell you in confidence that Count d'Harcourt has enjoined me to throw provisions, if possible, into the citadel at Turin. It will take me some time to make arrangements, and my only fear is that the garrison, on hearing that we have retired across the Po -- of which you may be sure the Spaniards will take care to inform them -- may believe that we shall do no more this winter; and as we know that their provisions must be well nigh exhausted, they will abandon the citadel and march thither.
"It is now well nigh eighteen months since they were first cut off. It is certain that their investment is a very close one, and that the most vigilant watch is used to prevent news of any kind from reaching them from the outside. We have made several efforts to communicate with them, but without success. Some of the messengers we sent never returned, and were, doubtless, detected and killed. Others came back and reported their failure, saying that every avenue to the citadel was so closely watched that it was impossible to get through."
"Have you any objection, general, to my mentioning this matter to my boy? I am absolutely convinced that he is thoroughly faithful and trustworthy."
"You may do so if you like, Campbell, though it is hardly likely that he will be able to suggest any method of communication with the garrison that has not already been tried."
"Thank you, sir."
The general shortly afterwards went out to wait upon the duchess; in two hours he returned, and as soon as he did so Hector entered his room.
"What is it?" Turenne asked.
"I have been thinking about what you said about the garrison of Turin. I have been talking it over with Paolo, and have come to offer to do my best to deliver a letter from you to the garrison if you will do me the great honour to entrust the mission to me. We both think that two boys would be much more likely to succeed than men. No one would regard them with suspicion; and they could creep and crawl more easily. I do not say that we should succeed, but I think that we should have some chance of doing so. At any rate I am willing to try."
"It would be a very dangerous expedition," Turenne said gravely.
"Not more dangerous than going into a battle, viscount. Not a quarter as dangerous as storming a breach."
Turenne smiled. "The idea has passed through my mind," he said, "but I should not have proposed it had you not first spoken. It is the sort of mission in which I thought you could be made useful, but it is a rough adventure to begin with, and you must not minimize the danger. It is the duty of a soldier to run the risk of being killed in battle, but it lies beyond his duty to go into the enemy's camp to obtain news. He may volunteer for it, but with a knowledge that if detected he would assuredly be hanged."
"I do not think, general, that the risk of detection would be great, but the risk of failure would be so. If when we get there we can see no possible means of passing through the line of sentries, there would be nothing to do but to come back, and I own that in talking it over the thought that I might be obliged to return and to tell you that I had failed occupied a much larger portion of my thoughts than the risk of being detected."
"But I shall not expect you to succeed, Campbell; the chances are a hundred to one against it. I should be glad, however, to have the experiment tried once again, so that if the garrison capitulates before we arrive to its succour, I shall not be able to blame myself for not having made one more effort to induce them to hold out for another few weeks. Have you thought of your plans?"
"Only so far, sir, that we shall dress up as two country boys, cross the Po, and enter the city from the other side. After that we must be guided by circumstances and trust to good luck. May I ask, general, if you have a plan of the city and fortress?"
"Yes; at least the duchess has one, which she has placed at my disposal. I can send an officer to the palace to request her to let me have it. No doubt it would be a great advantage to you to study the position beforehand."
"Well, sir, we will see about getting our disguises at once."
"I will give you an order on the paymaster for a hundred crowns for special service," Turenne said. "It is as well to be amply provided with money, as it may be necessary to buy fresh disguises or to bribe someone to conceal you;" and he drew an order on the treasury and handed it to Hector.
"You will find the plan of the town in your room when you return."
Paolo was waiting for him.
"It is settled, Paolo; we are to go."
"This is an adventure after my own heart," the boy said with delight. "It will be great fun to outwit the Spaniards."
"Yes, but we must mind that they don't outwit us, Paolo, which is quite as likely. Now let us talk of our disguises again. I think you had better go and buy them. I would rather get old ones than new. I don't suppose that anyone is likely to take notice of me in the streets, but it would be well at any rate that we should not both have new clothes, and better that neither of us did so."
"I can manage that, sir. There are shops here where one can buy old clothes as well as new ones. I noticed one the other day in a narrow street by the wall. I wondered then who would buy some of the garments hung up. They were so old and so often mended that it was difficult to say what was the original colour. The people are very poor up in the mountains; since the war began, doubtless they have grown poorer, and are glad to buy anything that will cover them."
"Well, here are ten crowns."
"They won't cost half that, master, but I will take them."
"Mind and get something warm, Paolo; it is like enough that we shall have to sleep more than once in the open air, and the winds are bitterly cold."
In half an hour the officer came with the plan, which Hector at once set to to study. The citadel stood on ground but little, if at all, higher than that upon which the town was situated. It was pentagonal in form, and was built in 1565, and was the earliest fortification in Europe in this style, and was considered a masterpiece. It was separated from the town by its glacis. A deep fosse ran along the foot of the wall. The town itself was walled, and extended to the foot of the citadel, and was capable of offering a sturdy resistance even after the citadel had fallen, just as the citadel could protect itself after the capture of the town by an enemy. Hector examined carefully that portion of the town facing the citadel, and took notes of the streets that ran through to the walls, specially noting those which extended farthest from the wall before being broken by cross lanes.
It was evident from the width of the streets that this was the poorest quarter of the town, for the wealthy would not care to build their houses in a position where, if the town and citadel were hostile to each other, they would be exposed to the fire of the latter's guns.
In another half hour Paolo returned with a large bundle. It contained two coarse cotton shirts, two warm garments resembling waistcoats, and fastened by strings closing up to the neck, two red sashes of coarse flannel, and two loose doublets reaching down to the hips. These were worn and patched, but had been newly lined with sheepskin. The breeches, which reached down to the knee, were of coarse brown cloth; to cover the leg below the knee were bands of gray flannel which were wrapped round and round the leg and foot, while over these were worn wooden shoes. The hats were of conical shape with wide brims, and both, like the clothes, bore signs of long wear.
"It could not have been better, Paolo," Hector said as he examined them. "I have seen scores of boys so dressed, and we shall certainly attract no attention by our garb. They are warm, too, and we sha'n't come to any harm from sleeping out in them."
"They cost more than I expected, master, owing to the doublets being freshly lined, but I thought it would be worth it."
"Quite right! those sheepskins will be most useful. There is one thing more we shall want, a thin rope, that will bear our weight well, some twenty yards long. You had better go to a smith's and get him to make a strong iron hook, by which we can fix the rope on to the edge of a wall should it be needed. You had better have it made a good nine inches across the hook, and the shank fifteen inches long."
After again studying the map he took it to the general.
"We have our disguises, sir, and shall be ready to start tomorrow morning."
"You have lost no time," the general said approvingly. "You will, of course, ride to Chivasso. I will give you an order to the governor there, to take charge of your horses and clothes, telling him that you are about to proceed on a mission in disguise, and requesting him to send an officer to pass you through the outposts beyond the bridge across the Po, that is if the other side is not guarded by the Spanish troops. I should advise you to make straight south so as to strike the road from Casale two miles west of Turin. I do not like letting you go, lad, and yet I feel it is of such importance that the garrison should know that aid will be at hand before long, that I feel I ought not to prevent you from carrying out your enterprise. When do you think of starting?"
"At eight in the morning, sir. If we do so we shall easily reach Chivasso before dark, and may be near Turin by morning."
"I will have my note for the commandant ready by the time your horses are at the door. I will make it as small as possible, and you had better before you start sew it up in the lining of your coat, so that if you are searched -- which I own I do not think to be likely, unless in some other way you excite the suspicions of the Spaniards -- it may not be found upon you."
"I think, sir, that I would rather make it into a little pellet which I can swallow. I fancy that if they were suspicious enough to search me they would rip all the linings open."
"That would be a better way certainly, Campbell; I see that you have thought the matter over thoroughly. Of course, you will take no arms with you."
"Nothing but a long knife each. Every peasant carries one, and it may be possible that we shall be compelled to silence a sentinel. If you would not mind, sir, I should like to have six copies of your letter to the commandant. I could manage to swallow six as well as one, and as it is not likely that I shall be able to enter the citadel it would be as well to give them a better chance of finding the letter if I have to try to shoot or throw it in."
"That shall be done; we will use the thinnest paper, so that if you have to swallow them you can do so without difficulty."
"If I find that I cannot by any possibility get my message in through the town, sir, I shall try to cross the river and so make my way in on that side."
"That would be even more dangerous than the other," Turenne said. "On that side an even stricter watch is likely to be kept than on that facing the town, for the Spaniards know that the garrison is not strong enough to attempt any enterprise against the city, while it might at any moment attempt to break out and march away on the other side.
"I own that I do not see myself how you can possibly succeed in either case, but assuredly there must be more chance on the side of the town. I have been thinking it over, and will order a troop of cavalry to ride with you to Chivasso, for the Spanish horse from time to time make forays from Turin, carry off prisoners, and burn villages. Until we are in a position to make a general advance it is impossible to check these attacks without keeping the whole of our cavalry massed near Turin, and wearing out horses and men by the necessity for perpetual vigilance. And now, goodbye; may fortune attend you! Do not be too rash. The letters shall be sent you in an hour's time."
As they issued out from Susa they found the troop of cavalry awaiting them. The officer in command was well known to Hector, and said:
"So it is you that I am to escort to Chivasso, Monsieur Campbell?"
"Yes; I am sorry to give you occasion for so much trouble."
"No trouble at all; we have not been in the saddle for the past week, and a ride to Chivasso will make a pleasant change. Besides, I have a brother in the garrison there, so that altogether I shall be your debtor. You see, we are not allowed to ride beyond St. Ambrogio, or Rivoli at farthest, for once beyond that, we should be liable to be caught by the enemy's scouting parties. Of course we have a strong force at Rivoli, but except to drive off small parties of the enemy who may venture to come up too close, they are forbidden to engage in any affairs. It is annoying, but one can understand that the general is anxious to avoid encounters in which the enemy is sure to be superior in force, until his reinforcements come up and we are able to take the field in earnest."
"I do not think we shall be otherwise than inferior in force even when our last regiment comes up," Hector said. "What with Holland and the Rhine and the frontier of Spain, it is clear that the cardinal must have as much as he can do to enable all our commanders to make head against the enemy, and it is no secret that beyond one more regiment of cavalry that will arrive with Count d'Harcourt, no other reinforcements are likely to reach us for some time to come. But then, you see, we have Turenne as well as d'Harcourt, and each of them ought to count for two or three thousand men."
"Well, I would rather fight against long odds," the officer said, "than be kept here month after month doing nothing. Here is winter coming on, and I suppose that will put a stop to everything."
"I should hardly think so," Hector replied. "I am sure that the viscount is as eager for action as we are, and winter here is not the same thing as in Holland or on the Rhine. From what I hear there is very little snow in the plains; and as the country is generally flat, an army could march almost as easily as in summer, and in some respects they would be better off."
"How do you mean?"
"I mean that in summer the barns would be all empty of food until filled again by the harvest, whereas in winter they would be all well stocked with forage for the cattle and horses."
"You are right, Monsieur Campbell. Certainly there should be nothing to prevent our operating through the winter, and I shall look forward even more eagerly than I did before for d'Harcourt's return. Will you come back with us tomorrow from Chivasso?"
"That will depend upon circumstances. I think it is more probable that I shall not return to Susa for a few days; my orders are to report myself to the governor."
No bodies of the enemy's cavalry were met with on the way, and at four o'clock in the afternoon they rode into Chivasso. They alighted at the commandant's, and on stating that he was the bearer of a despatch from the general Hector was at once shown in. As he had more than once ridden there with despatches from Turenne, he was known to the officer.
"We heard of the victory three days since," the latter said, as Hector handed him the despatch, "and fired a salvo of guns in honour of it. An Italian deserter from the other side brought the news. The two generals were unwounded, I hope?"
"Yes, colonel, and our losses were altogether slight."
The commandant opened the despatch. He looked a little surprised at its contents. "So you are going to endeavour to pass a message into the citadel. It is a difficult undertaking. The enemy's watch is a very vigilant one. Once or twice during the siege men have succeeded in swimming the Po and evading the enemy's guards, but of late these have been doubled, for it is thought that the garrison may attempt to break out. On the town side the firing has all but ceased; they know that the store of provisions is almost exhausted, and regard it as a waste of powder and shot to continue their cannonade, which only results in the citadel answering it, and that with very much more effect than the Spanish guns produce. May I ask if you have any plan of getting in?"
"No, sir, we must decide upon that when we see how matters stand."
"Who is the we?" the colonel asked.
"Myself and my servant, who is a very sharp and intelligent lad whom I can thoroughly trust. Alone I could do nothing, for I have only picked up a few phrases in Italian yet, and should be detected at once; so anything that has to be said must be said by him. May I ask, sir, if the enemy are in force on the other side of the bridge? if so, we must cross by swimming, either above or below it."
"No; there was a regiment there until three days ago, but they marched away, and no doubt formed a portion of Prince Thomas's force. They know well enough that although our garrison can hold the walls, we are not strong enough to undertake any enterprise."
"Then, sir, we have only to ask for an escort for a mile or so beyond the other side of the bridge, in case a company should have been left to watch the road. Beyond that we will dismount and proceed on foot. We will, if you please, put on our disguises here, with the exception of our hats, and perhaps you will lend us a couple of long cloaks, so that our appearance may not be noticed. Although we shall not start until after dark, it is as well to be upon the safe side. Maybe the enemy have spies in the town, and were it noticed that two young peasants rode out under the escort of a troop of cavalry news might be sent to Turin. In that case we might be arrested as soon as we entered the city. I should be obliged if you would give orders to the officer in command that one of the troopers should bring the horses, cloaks, and hats back here with him."
The governor rang a bell, and on an orderly entering said: "Tell Captain Sion to have his troop in readiness to start in an hour's time, in order to form an escort for one of Viscount Turenne's officers, and tell him that when he has the troop ready to start he is to come to me for detailed orders. I have said an hour, Monsieur Campbell," he went on, after the orderly had left the room, "because, in the first place, it is not yet dark, and in the second, it will take some twenty minutes to prepare a meal. You will have a long night's work before you, and I dare say you have had nothing since you halted for breakfast."
"Thank you, colonel, I had not thought of it; but I should certainly have remembered it before tomorrow morning. We halted for breakfast at eleven, and if it had not been for your kind offer we should have had no chance of getting anything till we entered Turin, and even there the less we go into any cabarets the better."
"That is true. I have sent a message to the cook that twenty minutes is the utmost we can give for the preparation of a meal."