Won by the Sword by G. A. Henty
Chapter V: The Relief of the Citadel
As soon as the first gleam of daylight showed itself Hector and his companion were on their feet again.
The operation of dressing was by no means a comfortable one, for the frost had set in in earnest during the night, and their clothes, with the exception of the shirts, were as stiff as boards. The snow had ceased and the sky was clear.
"It is going to be a fine day, master," Paolo said as they left the hut.
"That is better than battling with a snowstorm such as that of yesterday evening. Come on, Paolo, let us trot for a bit. The snow is four inches deep, and we shall soon get warm running through it."
In a quarter of an hour they broke into a walk again, panting from their exertions.
"I am as warm as a toast now, Paolo. There is a village half a mile ahead. I expect that lies on the road. The sun will be up before we get there, and no doubt we shall be able to get some hot spiced wine and some bread at a wineshop."
This turned out to be the case. They had settled what story to tell; and when the landlord asked what brought them there so early, Paolo said that they had been on the road a couple of hours, as they were going to see an aunt who was ill at Chivasso, and their father wanted them back again that night. The explanation satisfied the host and he asked no further questions, and in ten minutes they were on their way again, greatly warmed and comforted by their meal, and after walking for another hour and a half they arrived at the bridge of Chivasso. There was a strong guard at the bridge head, for at any moment the garrison of Turin, aided by a force from Leganez's army, might endeavour to carry the town by a sudden assault. The lads passed the bridge unquestioned, entered the gate of the town, and made their way to the commandant's house.
"What do you want?" the sentry at the door asked as they came up.
The regiment was French, and Hector answered at once:
"We want to see the governor, we have important news for him."
The soldier was greatly surprised, for he had not expected his question to be understood by these peasant boys.
"Sergeant," he called out, "here are two peasant boys who speak French. They want to see the governor, and say that they have news of importance to give him."
A sergeant came out.
"Sergeant," Hector went on quietly, "you will please tell the governor that the two persons he sent out under an escort the evening before last, wish to see him."
By the tone of assurance in which the lad spoke, rather than by his words, the sergeant saw that there was something more than appeared on the surface, and at once took up the message. He returned almost immediately. "Please to follow me," he said, and led the way up to the governor's room.
"Welcome back again, Monsieur Campbell! You have returned sooner than I expected. You found, of course, that the difficulties were insuperable?"
"On the contrary, sir, we have been successful, and have communicated with the garrison of the citadel."
"You have!" the governor exclaimed in astonishment. "How on earth did you manage it? I heard that the watch was so strict that it was absolutely impossible for a message to be sent through."
"It was not very difficult after all, and we were greatly favoured by the snowstorm." He then gave an account of how they had managed it.
"Pardieu!" he exclaimed, "that was admirably done; but I am keeping you talking while you are sitting in your wet clothes."
"I think they are quite dry now, sir; and we have walked so fast that we are both thoroughly warm. Still, I own that I shall not be sorry to change them for my own."
The governor rose and opened the door. "Your clothes are all hanging up in that closet. I will have some hot water sent up at once. I shall be breakfasting in half an hour, so you will have time to change comfortably."
Hector was even more glad of a thorough wash than of a change of clothes, and went down to join the governor at breakfast, feeling greatly refreshed.
"Shall I wait on you, master?"
"No, it is not necessary, Paolo; you had better go into the kitchen at once. I have no doubt the governor has ordered them to attend to your wants as he did before."
Four other officers had just arrived on the invitation of the governor to breakfast; one of these was the captain who had commanded the escort.
"Gentlemen," the commandant said, "let me introduce to you Monsieur Campbell, a lieutenant on the staff of Viscount Turenne. He has just returned after having successfully carried out a most dangerous and difficult mission, namely, that of communicating with the garrison of Turin."
The officers gave an exclamation of surprise, while Captain Simon stepped forward and shook hands warmly with Hector.
"You did not tell me exactly what you were going to do," he said. "I thought that it was to see some of the duchess's adherents in Turin, but I never dreamt that you were going to attempt to communicate with the citadel. Had I known that, I certainly should not have expected to see you again, for from what we have heard it is next to impossible to get through the enemy's lines."
"We will not trouble Monsieur Campbell until he has finished his breakfast," the commandant said. "He has already told me briefly how he managed, but I shall be as glad as you will to have the details."
Accordingly, after breakfast Hector related at much greater length the story that he had told the governor of the manner in which the mission had been carried out.
"Ma foi!" the colonel said, "I would rather have faced a battery than swum those moats in such weather. Well, gentlemen, I think that you will agree with me that Monsieur de Turenne is fortunate in having so brave and enterprising an officer on his staff."
The officers cordially assented.
"I wonder that you did not enter the citadel and stay there till the convoy arrived."
"In the first place, colonel, I had received no orders to do so, and the general might require me for other service. And in the second place, had I not returned he would not have known whether his message had reached the garrison, and so might have hurried on his preparations more hastily than he otherwise would have done, and might, in his fear that the garrison would surrender, have made the attempt before he had collected sufficient food to last them until he was in a position to raise the siege."
"Your reasons are good ones; but certainly, with shelter and warmth close at hand -- for the sentry would speedily have passed the word along, and as soon as it was ascertained that you were indeed a French officer, and alone, the gates would have been opened for you -- it must have required no small effort to turn away and to face the danger of passing the sentries and scaling the walls, of possibly having to swim the Po, and of certainly having no chance of getting a change of clothes until you arrived here, for you could not have calculated upon finding the shed, much less those sacks, with the snow falling heavily."
"That was a piece of good fortune, indeed. If we had not found it, we should have gone on walking until we got here. Still, we had had little sleep the night before, and were heartily glad that we had no farther to go. And now, sir, with your permission we will start for Susa at once."
"Your escort returned yesterday, but I will send a troop of cavalry with you."
"Thank you, sir, but I do not think that there is any necessity for it. We are very well mounted, and should we see any party of the enemy's cavalry I think that we ought to be able to outdistance them. I shall be glad, colonel, if you and your officers will say nothing about the manner in which I communicated with the garrison, as doubtless the enemy have spies here; and if the story comes out and reaches the ears of the authorities at Turin, I should have no chance whatever of making my way in, in the same manner, should the general entrust me with another mission to communicate with the citadel."
A quarter of an hour later Hector and Paolo mounted and rode out of the town. They kept a vigilant lookout, and traveled by byroads, but they saw none of the enemy's parties, and reached Susa late that afternoon. On sending in his name to Turenne, Hector was at once shown into his room.
"I did not expect you back for another three or four days, Campbell," the general said, "and I am heartily glad to see you again safe and sound. I blamed myself for letting you go. Of course, as I expected, you found the task an altogether impossible one. Had it been otherwise you would not have been back so soon."
"On the contrary, general, for I should have tried many plans before I gave it up. As it is, I have only to report that I have carried out your instructions, and that your despatches are in the hands of the garrison of the citadel."
"You do not say so!" Turenne said, rising from the table at which he had been sitting writing when Hector entered, and shaking him warmly by the hand. "I congratulate both you and myself on your having performed a mission that seemed well nigh hopeless. But by what miracle did you succeed in passing through the enemy's lines? All who have tried it before have either died in the attempt or have returned to tell me that it was an absolutely impossible one."
"It would have been very difficult, general, had not the weather favoured us. The snowstorm drove the sentries into shelter, and even had they remained at their posts they could not have seen us five yards away."
"No, I can understand that once beyond the wall you might in such a storm make your way unnoticed up to the fortress; but I understood that not only were there guards on the walls and down near the great moat, but that there were also sentries in all the streets leading to the walls, and that none were allowed to pass along those leading to the walls facing the citadel. Tell me how you managed it."
"The story is a long one, sir."
"Never mind how long it is; give me all details. I am not particularly busy at present, and I would fain know exactly how this feat has been accomplished."
Hector told his story at length. Beyond asking a question now and then, Turenne remained silent until he had brought it to a conclusion.
"I have never heard a story that interested me more," he said, "and I do not know which to admire more, your ingenuity in planning this affair or the hardihood and courage with which you carried it out. Even had there been no enemy to get through, the adventure of letting yourself down by a rope from the housetop and then from the battlements, swimming three moats, crossing the river in such terrible weather, and finally making your way to Chivasso in your frozen clothes, is no slight feat of endurance. The service that you have rendered is a great one, the manner in which you have carried it out is worthy of the highest praise, and I shall at once make out your commission as captain. You are still a year behind me," he added with a smile, "but if you go on in this way, you bid fair to obtain a regiment as soon as I did. You have nearly four years to do it in. Tomorrow you will dictate your story in full to my secretary. I shall be sending a messenger with despatches on the following day. I shall mention that I have promoted you to the rank of captain, and that the story of the action that you have performed, which I shall inclose, will fully explain my reason for so speedily advancing you. No, I require no thanks; you have to thank yourself only. I may consider that you have not only done me but the state a service. Your servant deserves a reward also. Here are twenty pistoles; tell him not to throw them away, but to lay them by where some day they will be useful to him."
Paolo was astonished indeed when Hector handed him the general's present. He could at first hardly believe that it was meant for him.
"Why, master," he said, "it would buy me a farm up in the hills!"
"Not a very large one, Paolo, but I daresay that you will add to it; still, this is a good beginning, and some more opportunities may come in your way."
"What shall I do with them, master?"
"That I cannot say. Certainly you cannot carry them about with you. Do you know anyone to whom you could entrust them?"
Paolo shook his head. "There is never any knowing who is an honest man and who is not," he said. "I will bury them, master."
"But somebody might find them."
"No fear of that, sir. I will go a bit up the valley and bury them under a big rock well above the river, so that it will not be reached in the highest floods. They might lie there a hundred years without anyone finding them, even if every soul in Susa knew that they were hidden somewhere and went out to search for them."
"Very well; but be sure you take notice of the exact position of the stone, or you may not be able to find it again yourself. One big stone is a good deal like another. Choose a stone with a tree growing near it, and make a cross with your knife on the bark. That will serve as a guide to you, and you would recognize the stone by it even if you could not find it in any other way."
"Thank you, master. I will go out tomorrow morning and choose my stone, and then when it begins to get dark I will go out and bury my money there. It would not do to hide it in the daytime, for even were there no one on the road someone upon the hills might catch sight of me and come down afterwards to see what I was disposing of."
"Well, I think that that is the best thing that you can do, Paolo. There is certainly a danger in leaving it in anyone's hands, for when you return to claim it, perhaps some years hence, you might find that he was dead, or the place might be captured and burned down. Yes, I think that hiding it is the safest way. You will be pleased to hear that the general has given me a commission as captain."
"That is good news, indeed," the boy said. "I was just going to ask, master, what he had done for you, because, though I went with you, it was you who planned the business, and I only did as you told me."
"You had something to do with the planning, too, Paolo. However, I think that we may both feel well content with the rewards that we have obtained for two days' work."
As Hector went out he met de Lisle and Chavigny.
"Well met!" the former exclaimed. "We have just left the general, and he has told us what you have done, and that he has made you a captain in consequence. We were just coming to look for you to carry you off to supper in honour of your promotion."
"You deserve it, if anyone ever did, there is no doubt of that," Chavigny said heartily. "We are quite proud of our comrade."
"It seems absurd that I should be a captain."
"Not absurd at all," Chavigny said. "Turenne was a captain when he was a year younger than you are, and there is many a noble who has been made a colonel before he ever drew sword in battle."
Hector was much pleased at the evidently genuine congratulations of his companions. He had indeed rather feared that they would take his promotion ill; being nearly five years his senior, and having served in two previous campaigns, they might well feel hurt at his being promoted while they still remained only lieutenants. The young nobles indeed felt no shade of jealousy. It was but of late that there had been a regular army, for the nobles still brought their tenants and retainers to the field and supported them at their own expense.
To de Lisle and Chavigny these grades of military rank were of no account whatever. The rank of colonel would add in no way to their position as members of noble families. They fought for honour, and against the enemies of France. They were always addressed by their family name, and would both have resented being called lieutenant. They were proud of being Turenne's aides-de-camp, but had no thought of remaining in the army after the war was over, as they would then resume their place at court. They had both taken a strong liking to their young comrade, whose manner of thought differed so widely from their own. They appreciated the merits of the action of which their general had spoken in such warm terms, and the fact that in point of military rank he was now above them concerned them in no way. It was a merry supper at the best hotel in Susa.
"You see now, de Lisle," Chavigny said, "the advantage of taking a morning dip in snow water. Neither you nor I would have swum across those moats, and remained all night long in our wet clothes, for a thousand crowns."
"No, no, nor for five thousand," the other laughed. "Pass me the wine; it makes me shiver to think of it. I fancy we may as well admit at once that if the mission had been entrusted to us, we should have made a mess of it. We should have been shot by the guards in the first street we entered. As to climbing along the roofs of houses till we had passed the first line of sentinels, the idea would never have entered our heads. Of course we might have disguised ourselves, and might have got into the town by harnessing ourselves to a load of faggots, but once there we should have had no more chance of getting into the fortress than if we had at once proclaimed ourselves French officers, and had requested a pass into the citadel."
For the next ten days every effort was made to obtain carts and pack horses from the villages round Susa, and a number of wagons filled with provisions were brought from Carignano, where the principal supplies for the army had been collected. On the fourteenth day all was ready, and late in the afternoon the convoy, with fifteen hundred men from Susa, and four pieces of artillery, marched out. At the same hour the force at Carignano, six thousand strong, leaving only a small body to garrison the city, started for Turin along the farther bank of the Po, and just as day broke a heavy cannonade was opened by them against one of the city gates.
Astonished and alarmed, the troops in the city flew to arms, and hurried to repulse the attack. A quarter of an hour later the dim light of the morning showed the astonished sentries at the end of the town surrounding the citadel a considerable force advancing to the attack of the gate there, opposite which, at a distance of two hundred yards, four cannon were placed, and scarcely had they made out the enemy when these opened fire. A few rounds and the gate was in splinters, and the infantry rushed forward. The sentries on the walls took to flight, and the assailants pushed forward to the inner gate. Access was obtained from that side to the citadel, and then, under the direction of their officers, the assailants occupied all the side streets. At once the procession of carts was allowed to pass along. Some of the garrison ran down and lowered the drawbridge across the moat, and amid exultant shouts a store sufficient for many months was conveyed into the citadel. The carts as quickly as they were unloaded returned through the gates and passed out Into the country beyond. By this time a fierce fight had begun. As soon as the firing was heard opposite the citadel, Prince Thomas and his military advisers guessed at once that the attack had been but a feint, made with the object of effecting the relief of the citadel, and calling several regiments to follow them they hastened in that direction. On their way they met the fugitives, and hurried on with all speed. As they approached the street through which the wagons were passing out, they were checked by a heavy fire. The four guns had been placed in pairs at the end of the streets, and the houses near them filled with troops who kept up a murderous fire from the windows, on the head of the columns, and held them completely in check until the last wagon had been taken out. Then the cannon were removed, and when these too were fairly outside the city, a bugle call summoned the defenders of the houses, and the infuriated Italians and Spaniards, when they rushed down into the street between the gates, found that the last of their foes had escaped them. The artillerymen ran up to the walls, only to find that the guns had been spiked, and they were powerless to inflict any serious damage upon the retiring force.
Prince Thomas ordered a sally, but at this moment a regiment of cavalry from Chivasso was seen dashing across the plain, and being without artillery or cavalry the order was countermanded. Indeed, the prolonged roll of artillery at the other end of the city seemed to show that the French were converting their feigned attack into a real one. Turenne had himself accompanied the column from Carignano, for he knew that the sound of firing might bring up Leganez from Asti, and that he might find his retreat to Carignano intercepted. The moment, however, that the sound of four guns at equal intervals showed that the other column had achieved its object, he at once fell back, his fire ceasing a few minutes before Prince Thomas and his horse arrived at the walls. He had not been accompanied by Hector, who was with the force from Susa.
"You carried my message to the garrison," he said, "and it is but right that you should have the honour of leading the party to its relief."
On arriving near the city Hector had dismounted, and, giving his horse in charge of Paolo, had placed himself at the head of the company that was first to enter the town, its captain being transferred to another company.
"Now, men," he said, as they stood waiting for the dawn to break, "the moment we enter the gates half the company will mount the wall to the right, the other half to the left, and each will push along to the next angle of the wall. Lieutenants, one of you will go with each wing of the company, and you will oppose to the last any force that may march along the rampart to attack you. I want one soldier to keep by me."
As day began to break, each man grasped his firelock and awaited the signal with impatience. A cheer broke from them as the four cannon roared out at the same moment, and at so short a distance that every shot told on the gate. Another salvo and both halves of the gate were splintered.
"Aim at the centre where the lock is," an officer shouted.
"Get ready, men," Hector said. "Another round and the gate will fall."
As the cannon rung out there was a shout of triumph. One of the gates fell to the ground and Hector dashed forward, followed closely by his company. Not a single shot was fired from the walls, and the men burst through the gates cheering. The leading wing of the company turned to the right, and, led by Hector, ran up the steps close to the gateway on to the rampart.
"Take them on to that bastion at the angle of the wall, lieutenant. I do not think that you are likely to be attacked at present. The enemy must all have been drawn off to the other end of the city. Now, my man, open that bag."
In it were a couple of dozen large nails and a hammer. "Drive one of those right down the vent of this gun. That is right. One more blow. That will do. They won't get that nail out soon."
He went along the wall spiking each gun until they reached the half company drawn up in the bastion. "No enemy in sight, lieutenant?"
"None, sir, at least not on the wall. We heard them running away in the streets below."
"Remember, lieutenant, whatever force may come along you must withstand them. It will not be for long. You will be at once supported if we hear firing."
Then he retraced his steps along the ramparts, passed over the gateway, and saw to the spiking of each gun as far as the next angle of the wall. Here he repeated his instructions to the lieutenant there.
"I do not think," he said, "that there is much chance of your being attacked. The enemy would have to make a detour right round the citadel to come here, and certainly they will return by the shortest way, as soon as they discover that the other attack is but a feint."
Then he returned to the first party.
"Get the two guns," he said, "out of their embrasures and wheel them here. It is likely enough that we may be hotly attacked presently."
They waited half an hour, by which time the wagons were beginning to pour out of the town.
"We have done our business, lieutenant; the citadel is revictualled. Ah! here come the enemy, just too late."
A strong body of troops were seen marching rapidly towards them, and almost at the same moment a heavy fire broke out in the street. The guns had been loaded from a small magazine in the bastion, and had been trained to fire along the rampart. When within a hundred yards the enemy opened fire. Hector ordered the men to lie down and not to reply until he gave the order. They lay in two lines, the first were to fire and the second to reserve their fire until ordered. He took his post at one gun and the lieutenant at the other. A messenger had been sent along the wall to bring up the twenty-five men of the other wing. When the enemy were within fifty yards he asked quietly, "Does your gun bear well on the centre of the column?"
The ball cut a way through the dense column.
The four men, told off to the duty, leapt to their feet. There was a halt for a moment, and then the Spaniards came on again. When they were within twenty paces Hector fired, and at the same time shouted, "First line give fire!" and twenty-five muskets flashed out, every ball taking effect on the head of the column. The Spaniards recoiled, the leading ranks being swept away and many of those behind wounded, for three balls had been rammed down the mouth of the cannon fired by Hector, and these and the musketry volley had done terrible execution. At this moment the twenty-five men sent for ran up.
"Second line give fire!" Hector shouted; and the discharge added to the confusion in the column, and many ran down some steps into the lane by the side of the wall.
"Have you loaded again, lieutenant?"
"Yes, sir, with three balls,"
"Then form up, men, and deliver your fire," Hector said to the newcomers. "Now, lieutenant, touch it off."
As the discharge rang out, mingled with the roar of the guns, Hector shouted, "Fix bayonets, and charge!" The wooden shafts of the bayonets were thrust down the barrels of the firelocks, and with a cheer the seventy-five men rushed upon the shattered head of the column. The charge was irresistible, and the enemy at once fled at full speed along the rampart or leapt from the wall into the lane below.
"Well done, men, well done!" Hector shouted. "Do not pursue. Reload your cannon, though I do not think there is much fear of their returning."
A few minutes later the soldier who had carried the spikes, and who had been left on the wall, ran up to say that the last cart had passed out.
"Go and tell the other party to fall back to the gate," Hector said; "but first give me two spikes and the hammer. They might run these cannons into the places of those disabled." So saying, he spiked the two guns that had done such good service, and then retired to the gate, where he was joined by the remainder of the company. As the bugle rung out after the last wagon had passed, and he saw the troops issuing from the houses at the corners of the cross streets, he marched his company across the drawbridge, out into the country, and followed the guns. When he reached the spot where Paolo was holding the horses, he resigned the command of the company and mounted.
"Men," he said, "you have played your part well, and I am proud to have commanded soldiers so steady and courageous."
At this moment the general, who was in command of the force, and who had been the last to leave the town, rode up, the men coming along at a run.
"You had better hurry your men on," he said to the colonel with whom Hector had acted; "the enemy will be on the ramparts in a minute, and you may be sure that they won't let us off without trouble from their guns."
"I beg your pardon, general," Hector said saluting, "but the guns all along this side of the wall are useless; I have spiked them."
"You have, sir! That was well done indeed. Who gave you the orders, and how did you come by spikes?"
"I had no orders, general; but I was appointed to command the first company that entered, and was told that we were to turn right and left along the ramparts. It struck me that as, when we had left, the enemy would be sure to turn their guns upon us, it would be as well to silence them, so I brought the nails and a hammer with me for the purpose."
"It would be well, sir, if we had a good many officers as thoughtful as you are. You have saved us from heavy loss, for, as the country is perfectly level for a mile round, they would have swept our ranks as we marched off. Were you attacked, sir?"
"Yes, general, by a force of about four hundred men, but I turned two of the guns against them. My men fought well, and we repulsed them with a loss of fully a hundred men."
"Bravo, sir, bravo! I shall not fail to mention the service that you have rendered in my report of the affair. Have you lost any men?"
"No, sir; they lay down until the enemy were within twenty paces of us, and their volleys and the two cannon created such a confusion among the Spaniards that when we went at them with the bayonet they fled at once, and I have not a single man killed, and only two or three slightly wounded."
"We have only lost twenty," the general said, "and most of those were killed while serving the guns. That was a small price indeed to pay for our magnificent success."