The Young Buglers by G. A. Henty
Chapter XX. Toulouse.
Promotion for those who have the good fortune to have a post upon the commander-in-chief's staff is rapid. They run far less risk than do the regimental officers, and they have a tenfold better chance of having their names mentioned in despatches. The Scudamores were so mentioned for their conduct at Vittoria, the Pyrenees, and Orthes, and shortly after the last-named battle the Gazette from England announced their promotion to majorities. This put an end to their service as aides-de-camp, and they were attached to the quarter-master's branch of the staff of Lord Beresford, who was upon the point of starting with a small force to Bordeaux, where the authorities, thinking more of party than of patriotism, had invited the English to enter and take possession, intending to proclaim their adhesion to the Bourbon dynasty.
The boys were sorry at the exchange, as they feared that they should lose the crowning battle of the campaign. It was evident that the resistance of France was nearly at an end, the allies were approaching Paris in spite of the almost superhuman efforts of Napoleon; the people, sick of the war, refused all assistance to the military authorities, and were longing for peace, and the end of the struggle was rapidly approaching.
Lord Beresford, however, divining their thoughts, assured them that his stay at Bordeaux would be but short, and that they might rely upon being present at the great battle which would probably be fought somewhere near Toulouse, towards which town Soult had retreated after the battle of Orthes.
Upon the 8th of March, Beresford marched with 12,000 men for Bordeaux, and meeting with no opposition by the way, entered that city on the 12th. The mayor, a royalist, came out to meet them, and by the upper classes of the town they were received as friends rather than foes. Handsome quarters were assigned to Lord Beresford and his staff, and the Scudamores for a day or two enjoyed the luxury of comfortable apartments and of good food after their hard fare for nine months.
The day after they entered Bordeaux Tom had occasion to call at the office of a banker in order to get a government draft cashed, to pay for a number of wagons which had been purchased for the quarter-master's department. The banker's name was Weale, an American, said to be the richest man in Bordeaux. His fortune had been made, it was said, by large government contracts.
When Tom returned, Peter was surprised to see him looking pale and excited.
"What is the matter, Tom?"
"Do you know, Peter, I am convinced that that American banker I have been to see to-day is neither more nor less than that scoundrel, Walsh, who bolted with all the bank funds, and was the cause of our father's death."
"You don't say so, Tom."
"It is a fact, Peter, I could swear to him."
"What shall we do, Tom?"
"I only cashed one of the two drafts I had with me this morning; Peter, you go this afternoon with the other, and, if you are as certain as I feel about it, we will speak to Beresford at dinner."
Peter returned in the afternoon satisfied that his brother's surmises were correct, and that in the supposed American Weale they had really discovered the English swindler Walsh.
After dinner they asked Lord Beresford to speak to them for a few minutes alone.
The general was greatly surprised and interested at their communication.
"Of how much did this fellow rob your father's bank?" he asked.
"The total defalcation, including money borrowed on title-deeds deposited in the bank, which had to be made good, was, I heard, from 75,000l. to 80,000l.," Tom said.
"Very well," said Lord Beresford, "we will make the scoundrel pay up with interest. Order out thirty men of the 13th."
While the men were mustering, the general returned to the dining-room and begged the officers who were dining with him to excuse him for half an hour, as he had some unexpected business to perform. Then he walked across with the Scudamores to the banker's house, which was only in the next street.
Twenty of the men were then ordered to form a cordon round the house and to watch the various entrances. The other ten, together with the officer in command, the general told to follow him into the house. The arrangements completed, he rang at the bell, and the porter at once opened the gate.
He started and would have tried to shut it again, on seeing the armed party. But Lord Beresford said, "I am the general commanding the British troops here. Make no noise, but show me directly to your master."
The man hesitated, but seeing that the force was too great to be resisted, led the way through the courtyard into the house itself.
Some servants in the hall started up with amazement, and would have run off, but Lord Beresford cried, "Stay quiet for your lives. No one will be hurt; but if any one moves from the hall, he will be shot." Then, followed by Tom and Peter only, he opened the door which the porter pointed out to him as that of the room where the banker was sitting.
He was alone, and started to his feet upon beholding three British officers enter unannounced. "What means this?" he demanded angrily. "I am a citizen of the United States, and for any outrage upon me satisfaction will be demanded by my Government."
"I am Lord Beresford," the general said quietly, "and quite know what I am doing. I do not quite agree with you that the Government of the United States will make any demand for satisfaction for any outrage upon your person, nor, if they do so, will it benefit you greatly; for I am about, in five minutes' time, to order you to be shot, Mr. Walsh."
As the name was uttered the banker, who had listened with increasing pallor to the stern words of the general, started violently, and turned ghastly white. For a minute or so he was too surprised and confounded to speak. Then he said, in a husky tone, "It is false; I am an American citizen. I know nothing whatever about James Walsh."
"James Walsh!" the general said; "I said nothing about James. It is you who have told us his Christian name, which is, I have no doubt, the correct one."
He looked to Tom, who nodded assent.
"I know nothing about any Walsh," the banker said doggedly. "Who says I do?"
"We do, James Walsh," Tom said, stepping forward. "Tom and Peter Scudamore, the sons of the man you robbed and ruined."
The banker stared at them wildly, and then, with a hoarse cry, dropped into his chair.
"James Walsh," the general said sternly, "your life is doubly forfeit. As a thief and a swindler, the courts of law will punish you with death;" for in those days death was the penalty of a crime of this kind. "In the second place, as a traitor. As a man who has given aid and assistance to the enemies of your country, your life is forfeit, and I, as the general in command here, doom you to death. In five minutes you will be shot in your courtyard as a thief and a traitor."
"Spare me!" the wretched man said, slipping off his chair on to his knees. "Spare my life, and take all that I have. I am rich, and can restore much of that which I took. I will pay 50,000l."
"Fifty thousand pounds!" the general said; "you stole 80,000l., which, with interest, comes up to 100,000l., besides which you must pay for acting as a traitor. The military chest is empty, and we want money. I will value your wretched life at 25,000l. If you make that sum a present to our military chest, and pay Major Scudamore the 100,000l. of which you swindled his father, I will spare you."
"One hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds!" the banker said fiercely. "Never, I will die first."
"Very well," Lord Beresford said quietly. "Major Scudamore, please call in the officer and four men." Tom did as requested, and Lord Beresford then addressed the officer. "You will take this man, who is an Englishman, who has been acting as a traitor, and giving assistance to the French army, you will take a firing party, place him against the wall of the yard, give him five minutes to make his peace with God, and when the five minutes are up, unless he tells you before that that he wishes to see me, shoot him."
Pale and desperate, the banker was led out.
"He will give way, I hope," Tom said, as the door closed behind him.
"He will give way before the time is up," Lord Beresford said. "He is a coward; I saw it in his face."
Four minutes passed on, the door opened again, and the officer returned with his prisoner. "He says he agrees to your terms, sir"
"Very well" Lord Beresford answered; "remain outside with your men; they may be wanted yet."
The prisoner, without a word, led the way into an adjoining room, which communicated with the public office. This was his private parlor, and in a corner stood a safe. He unlocked it, and, taking out some books and papers, sat down to the table.
His mood had evidently changed. "I was a fool to hold out," he said, "for I had my name for wealth against me, and might have known you would not give way. After all, I do not know that I am altogether sorry, for I have always had an idea that some day or other the thing would come out, and now I can go back and be comfortable for the rest of my life. How will you have the money, gentlemen? I have 50,000l. in cash, and can give you a draft on the Bank of England for the rest. You look surprised, but I have always been prepared to cut and run from this country at the shortest notice, and every penny I have beyond the cash absolutely required is in England or America."
"I will take 25,000l. in cash for the use of the army," Lord Beresford said. "I will send an officer of the commissariat to-morrow for it. The 100,000l. you may pay these gentlemen in drafts on England. Until I hear that these drafts are honored, I shall keep you under surveillance, and you will not be suffered to leave your house."
"It will be all right," Walsh said. "There--is my Bank of England pass-book; you will see that I have 120,000l. standing to the credit of J. Weale there. I have as much in America. I should not tell you this did I not know that you are a gentleman, and therefore will not raise terms now that you see I can pay higher. There, Mr. Scudamore, is the draft, and, believe me or not, I am glad to repay it, and to feel, for the first time for many years, a free man. Please to give me a receipt for the 80,000l. due by me to the Bank, and for 20,000l., five years' interest on the same."
Tom did as he was desired without speaking. There was a tone of effrontery mingled with the half-earnestness of this successful swindler that disgusted him.
"There," the general said, as the receipts were handed over; "come along, lads, the business is over, and I do not think that we have any more to say to Mr. Weale."
So saying, without further word, the three went out.
Upon rejoining the officer without, Lord Beresford directed that a sergeant and ten men were to be quartered in the house, and that a sentry was to be placed at each entrance night and day, and that the banker was not to be permitted to stir out under any pretence whatever until further orders.
"There, lads, I congratulate you heartily," he said as they issued from the gate, in answer to the warm thanks in which the boys expressed their gratitude to him; "it is a stroke of luck indeed that you came with me to Bordeaux. It was rough-and-ready justice, and I don't suppose a court of law in England would approve of it; but we are under martial law, so even were that fellow disposed to question the matter, which you may be very sure he will not, we are safe enough. They say 'ill-gotten gains fly fast' but the scamp has prospered on the money he stole. He owned to having another hundred thousand safe in the States, and no doubt he has at least as much more in securities of one sort or other here. I daresay he was in earnest when he said that he did not mind paying the money to get rid of the chance of detection and punishment, which must have been ever in his mind. The best thing you can do, Scudamore, is to write to James Pearson--he's my solicitor in London--and give him authority to present this draft, and invest the sum in your joint names in good securities. Inclose the draft. I shall be sending off an orderly with despatches and letters at daybreak, and if you give me your letter to-night, I will inclose it in a note of my own to Pearson."
Five days later an order arrived for Lord Beresford to leave the seventh division under Lord Dalhousie, in Bordeaux, and to march with the fourth division to join the Commander-in-Chief, who was gradually drawing near to Toulouse, beneath whose walls Soult was reorganizing his army. The position was a very strong one, and had been rendered almost impregnable by fortifications thrown upon the heights. Wellington had, too, the disadvantage of having to separate his army, as the town lay upon both sides of the Garonne.
On the 10th of April the allied army attacked. Hill attacked the defences of the town on the left bank, while Freyre's Spaniards, Picton, with the third and light divisions, and Beresford with the fourth and the sixth divisions, assaulted a French position. The entrenchments in front of Picton were too strong to be more than menaced. Freyre's Spaniards were repulsed with great loss, and the brunt of the battle fell upon Beresford's division, which nobly sustained the character of the British soldier for stubborn valor in this the last battle of the war. The French fought stubbornly and well, but fort by fort the British drove them from their strong positions, and at five in the afternoon Soult withdrew the last of his troops in good order across the canal which separated the position they had defended from the town itself. The French lost five generals and 3000 killed and wounded; the allies four generals and 4659 killed and wounded, of which 2000 were Spaniards, for they upon this occasion fought bravely, though unsuccessfully.
On the 11th all was quiet, Wellington preparing for an attack upon the city on the following day. Soult, however, finding that the British cavalry had been sent off so as to menace his line of retreat, evacuated the city in the night, drew off his army with great order and ability, and by a march of twenty-two miles placed it in safety. Upon the morning of the 12th Wellington entered Toulouse, and the same afternoon two officers, one British, the other French, arrived together from Paris, with the news of the abdication of Napoleon, and the termination of the war.
These officers had been detained for two days at Blois by the officials there, and this delay had cost the blood of 8000 men, among whom was Tom Scudamore, who had his left arm carried away by a cannon ball. Sam, in the act of carrying his master from the field, was also severely wounded in the head with a musket ball.
Before the battle was fought they had received news from England that the draft had been paid at the Bank of England, and that their future was in consequence secure. The war being over, officers unattached to regiments had little difficulty in getting leave of absence, as the troops were to be embarked for England as soon as possible. Peter's application, therefore, to accompany his brother was acceded to without hesitation, and ten days after the battle of Toulouse he was on board ship with Tom and Sam, both of whom were doing well. Three days afterwards they landed in England.
Rhoda met them, with Miss Scudamore, at Portsmith, having received a letter telling them of Tom's wound, and of their being upon the point of sailing. There was a great reduction of the army at the end of the war, and the Scudamores were both placed upon half pay. This was a matter of delight to Rhoda, and of satisfaction to themselves. They had had enough of adventure to last for a life-time; and with the prospect of a long peace the army no longer offered them any strong attraction.
When they returned to Miss Scudamore's their old friend Dr. Jarvis came to visit them, and a happier party could not have been found in England. The will of Mr. Scudamore, made before he was aware of his ruin, was now acted upon. He had left 20,000l. to Rhoda, and the rest of his fortune in equal parts between his boys. Both Tom and Peter were fond of a country life, and they bought two adjoining estates near Oxford, Rhoda agreeing to stop with them and Miss Scudamore alternately.
For a brief time there was a break in their happiness, Napoleon escaped from Elba, and Europe was in a flame again. All the officers on half pay were ordered to present themselves for duty, and the Scudamores crossed with the army to Belgium, and fought at Waterloo. Neither were hurt, nor was Sam, who had of course accompanied them. Waterloo gave them another step in rank, and the Scudamores returned as colonels to England.
It was their last war. A few years afterwards they married sisters, and Rhoda having the year previous married a gentleman whose estate was in the same county, they remained as united as ever. Sambo held for many a year the important position of butler to Tom, then he found that one of the housemaids did not regard his color as any insuperable obstacle, and they were accordingly married. It was difficult to say after this exactly the position which Sam held. He lived at a cottage on the edge of the estate, where it joined that of Peter, and his time was spent in generally looking after things at both houses, and as years went on his great delight was, above all things, to relate to numerous young Scudamores the adventures of their father and uncle when he first knew them as the Young Buglers.