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 In half an hour Paolo returned leading two horses. By their trappings and appearance both had evidently belonged to officers. “Take off the trappings,” Hector said, “then put a saddle on one for me; shift your own saddle on to the other, and picket your own with the spare horses of the staff, then we will ride over and get my saddle, bridle, holsters, and trappings. The horse has carried me well ever since I left Paris, and I am grieved indeed to lose it.”
“So am I, master; it was a good beast, but I think that either of these is as good, though it will be long before I get to like them as I did Scotty. We shall want housings for this second horse, master.”
“Yes; there will be no difficulty about that. There are scores of dead horses on the field; choose one without any embroidery or insignia. You may as well take another pair of holsters with pistols.”
Riding across to the spot where Enghien and his officers were forming up the prisoners, talking courteously to the Spanish officers and seeing to the wounded, Hector, leaving Paolo to find his fallen horse and shift his trappings to the one that he rode, cantered up to the spot where Enghien's white plume could be seen in the midst of a group of officers, among whom was General Gassion. He saluted as he came up.
“I am glad indeed to see you, Captain Campbell,” Enghien said warmly, holding out his hand; “I feared that you were killed. Some of my friends told me that you were struck down in the third charge, and that they had not seen you since and feared that you were slain.”
“My horse was killed, prince, and in falling pinned me to the ground, and being within thirty yards of the Spanish square, I lay without movement until you came back again and broke them. Then some soldiers so far lifted my horse that I could get my foot from under it, my servant found and caught a riderless German horse, and here I am unharmed.”
“Well, sir, at the time that you came up General Gassion was just telling these gentlemen that had it not been for you things might have gone very differently. Had you not discovered that ambush their fire would have been fatal to us, for we fell back, as you know, farther than the copse, and a volley from a thousand muskets would have played havoc among us, and after so terrible a repulse might well have decided the day against us. For this great service, rendered by you voluntarily and without orders, I as commander-in-chief of this army, with the full and warm approval of General Gassion, appoint you to the rank of colonel, a rank which I am sure will be confirmed by the queen's minister when I report to him my reasons for the promotion. General Gassion reports that the man who accompanied you on this reconnaissance was the same who followed you in the expedition to Turin. As he is not a soldier I cannot promote him, but I will order my chamberlain to hand him a purse of a hundred pistoles. When you return to Turenne, tell him that I owe him my best thanks for having sent you to me, and that, thanks to the aid of his teaching, you have been the means of preventing a great disaster to our forces.”
“I thank you, indeed, monsieur, for your kindness, and for promoting me so far beyond my merits, but I hope in the future I shall be able to still further prove my gratitude.”
“That is proved already,” Gassion said, “for although every man today has fought like a hero, you were the only one in camp that suspected that the Spanish might be lying in an ambush, and who not only thought it, but took means to find out whether it was so.”
The next morning Enghien informed Hector that he was elected as one of the three officers who were to have the honour of carrying his despatches to Paris, and that he was to start in half an hour. Paolo, who was in the highest state of delight at the purse that had been presented to him the evening before, was greatly pleased with the prospect.
“Heaven be praised, master, that you are not going into another battle! It was well nigh a miracle that you escaped last time, and such good luck does not befall a man twice. I have never seen Paris, and greatly do I long to do so. How they will shout when they hear the news we bring!”
“It will not be altogether news to them, Paolo. La Moussaie, Enghien's intimate friend, who acted as his aide-de-camp during the battle, was sent off ten minutes after the fight ended with a paper, on which the prince had pencilled that he had utterly defeated the enemy. He will change horses at every post, and will be in Paris by this evening. We bear the official despatches, giving a full account of the battle, and of the total destruction of the Spanish infantry, with no doubt a list of the nobles and gentlemen who have fallen. Well, I should think now, Paolo, that when we have seen enough of Paris and we have journeyed down to Perpignan again, you will leave my service and buy a farm; you can afford a substantial one now.”
“What, master! I leave your service, where gold comes in in showers, and where one serves a master whom one loves? No, sir, I am not such a fool as that. I do not say that when the war is over I may not settle down in a snug home among the mountains of Savoy, but not until then; besides, I am but eighteen, and a nice hand I should make at managing a farm.”
“Well, get the horses ready at once and the valises packed. You can put them on my spare horse. The mule will scarce keep up with us, for we shall certainly travel fast, so you had best hand it over to someone who you think will treat it kindly.”
Twenty minutes later Hector, and two officers who had distinguished themselves especially in the battle, sat mounted before the tent that had now been raised for d'Enghien. The young prince himself came out. “Gentlemen,” he said, handing the three sealed packets, “you will present these to the queen, who is now Regent of France, for Louis XIII died a week ago. They contain the despatches and reports of myself and General Gassion. Your packet, colonel,” he added to Hector, “is General Gassion's report; it goes more fully into military details than mine. You, Monsieur de Penthiere, carry my despatches in reference to the battle of yesterday. You, Monsieur de Caussac, are the bearer of my plans for our future operations. I think that you will all agree with me that, after the battle we have won, we shall be able to make ourselves masters of Flanders with but slight resistance.”
The three officers bowed their agreement with the words.
“I know not who is in power or on whom the queen chiefly relies for counsel, but should any questions be put to you, you will, I hope, be able to express the urgency of prompt action in this matter before the Spaniards have time to rally from the terrible blow that this defeat has inflicted upon them. And now, gentlemen, a rapid and pleasant journey. Orders were sent on last night that four sets of fresh horses should be in readiness along the road. They are my own horses, and good ones. Twelve troopers will accompany you; three of these will remain behind at each stage where you change, and the horses that you have used will be brought on at a more leisurely pace after you. They will readily find out in Paris where you are lodged, and I beg that you will retain the horses as a slight proof of my goodwill.”
Then he waved his hand and went into his tent again. The three lackeys, each holding a spare horse, were sitting in readiness for a start some fifty yards away. After a moment's conversation the officers rode up to them.
“You must follow us quietly,” one of them said. “For today you can keep up with us to the end of the first stage. Three fresh horses have been provided for us, for we ride without a stop to Paris. Three soldiers will there take charge of the horses we ride. When we go on you will follow quietly with the horses that you are now leading. It will be impossible for you to keep up with us.”
Then they placed themselves at the head of their escort of dragoons, the lackeys fell in behind them, and they started at a fast pace.
“Do you know where the first relays are?” one of the officers asked the sergeant in charge of the escort, after they had ridden three or four miles.
“The first is at Rethel, monsieur, the second at Rheims, the third at Chateau-Thierry, the fourth at Meaux.”
“Then we will ride on at once. You have your orders?”
“Yes, sir.”
Whereupon the three officers quickened their pace. The distance to be traversed was about a hundred and thirty miles, and as they had five horses, including those they rode, each stage would average about twenty-six miles.
“Now, gentlemen,” de Penthiere said, “it seems to me that it would be a pity to founder fifteen good horses in order to gain an hour on this journey. The queen has already received news of the victory, or at least she will receive it some time today, therefore the details we bring are not of particular importance. It is now eight o'clock. If we were to gallop all the way we might do it in twelve hours. The roads in many places will be bad, and we must stop for meals at least three times; with the utmost speed we could hardly be in Paris in less than fifteen hours. Her majesty will scarce want to read long despatches at that time, and may take it that we ourselves will need a bath and a change of garments, and the services of a barber, before we could show ourselves in court. Had we been bearers of the original despatch, we might have gone in splashed from head to foot. As it is, it seems to me that if we present ourselves with our papers at seven in the morning we shall have done that which is necessary. What do you both say?”
“I agree with you, de Penthiere. It would be a sore pity to injure good horses by galloping them at the top of their speed, to say nothing of knocking ourselves up. Had we been sent off from the field of battle I should have said, spare neither the horses nor ourselves. But indeed it seems to me that tomorrow morning will be quite early enough for us to present ourselves and our despatches. To tell you the truth, I have never ridden a hundred and thirty miles or so at the pace of a courier. I should say let us go at a reasonable pace, and get into Paris soon after midnight, which will give us time for some little sleep, and afterwards to make ourselves presentable. What say you, Colonel Campbell?”
“I have no opinion, messieurs. I know nothing of the manners of the court, and if you think that tomorrow morning will be quite soon enough for us to deliver the despatches I am quite willing to fall in with your view. It is certainly a long ride, and as we marched hither we found that the roads were very bad, and certainly where the army has passed they are so cut up by the artillery and wagons that they are sure to be quite unfit for going at racing speed. Therefore I think that if we present ourselves at the palace early in the morning, we shall have done all that can be expected of us.”
It was indeed two o'clock in the morning when they arrived at the gates of Paris. Accustomed though they all were to horse exercise, the journey had been a very fatiguing one. Until night fell they had ridden briskly, talking as they went on the probable state of affairs in France and of the military operations that were likely to be undertaken as the result of the victory, but progress became slow after darkness set in. The roads were in many places detestably bad. In passing through forests it was not possible to travel much beyond a walk, as it was necessary not only to avoid overhanging arms of trees, but to keep the track, for the road in many places was nothing more.
Once or twice they lost it altogether, and it was only when they hit upon the house of a peasant or a little village, and obtained a guide, that they were able to recover their road. Consequently all were thoroughly exhausted when they reached Paris. The gates were opened to them when it was understood that they bore despatches from the army. They made their way to the Hotel Conde. It was illuminated, for the prince had given a great banquet in honour of the victory won by his son; and although most of the guests had left long before, a party of the closest friends and connections of the prince were holding an informal council, when the word came to them that three officers had arrived with despatches from the Duc d'Enghien. The prince came down. Hector had dismounted without assistance, but the other two officers had to be lifted from their saddles.
“Are you bearers of any special news, de Penthiere?” the prince asked; for the two young nobles were well known to him.
“No, monseigneur, save that our despatches give full details of the battle.”
“What is our loss?”
“It is very heavy,” de Penthiere said. “Fully a hundred men of good blood have fallen. The loss principally fell upon the cavalry commanded by the duke, who three times charged the Spanish infantry, and only succeeded at the fourth attempt in breaking their square.”
“And the Spanish infantry?”
“Every man was either killed or taken.”
“Glorious!” the prince said. “Well, I will not detain you now, for I see that you can scarce stand, and it would be cruel to keep you up, much as we desire to hear the particulars.”
“I think, monseigneur, that this gentleman, Colonel Campbell, is more in a condition to talk to you than de Caussac or myself.”
“I shall be happy to answer any questions,” Hector said, bowing to the prince. “I have been campaigning for the last four years under Monsieur de Turenne, and am accustomed to long journeys and sleepless nights.”
“Thank you, colonel. We will not keep you up long.”
Some lackeys were ordered to assist the two young nobles to couches, and then Conde and his companions left the courtyard and entered a small saloon where they had supped two hours before. Some fresh bottles of wine and cold viands were at once placed upon the table. Hector drank off a goblet of wine.
“Now, Monsieur le Prince, I will tell you all I know about the fight.” And he gave Conde and his companions a brief sketch of the various movements and changes of the battle.
“It was a hard fought field indeed,” Conde said, “and the result is a glorious one for France. Now we will keep you no longer from your couch.”
“May I ask, sir, at what time we ought to present ourselves with the despatches at the palace?”
“It will not be necessary for you to present yourselves before ten o'clock, for it was late last night before her majesty retired. Paris was wild at the news of the victory, and the reception at the palace was crowded. Still, I should say that at ten it would be well that you and your companions should attend there, though you may have to wait for an hour or more for an audience.”
At ten o'clock Hector and his companions presented themselves at the palace. Seven hours' sleep, a warm bath, and the services of the barber, who curled the hair of the two young nobles and sprinkled them all with perfume, did much to restore them, though they were all somewhat stiff, and every bone seemed to ache. They were kept waiting for half an hour, at the end of which time the door of the antechamber was opened and their names were called. The queen, who was still a beautiful woman, was standing talking to a gentleman, in whose attire there were but few symbols that would betray to a stranger that he was an ecclesiastic of high rank.
“You are the bearers of despatches from the army, messieurs?”
“We have that honour, your majesty,” de Penthiere, who was the senior of the party, said. “We arrived from Paris at two o'clock this morning, but did not venture to disturb your majesty at that hour.”
“You did rightly,” the queen said graciously. “We already knew that a great victory had been gained, and could afford to wait for the particulars. Do you each bear a despatch?”
“We do, your majesty,” de Penthiere said, producing that which he bore. “This, your majesty, is the general report of the Duc d'Enghien of the events of the battle. Colonel Campbell is intrusted with the more detailed description of General Gassion. Monsieur de Caussac's despatch contains the duke's views as to the carrying on of the campaign; these he submits to the judgment of your majesty and the council.”
Cardinal Mazarin stepped forward and took the three documents.
“These we will peruse and consider at our leisure,” the queen said, “and I shall, I hope, see you at my levee this evening. In the meantime I thank you for your service in having brought the despatches so speedily here, and am well aware that the fact that you have been chosen as the messengers of the commander-in-chief is in itself a proof that your share in the battle was in the highest degree honourable.”
She graciously held out her hand, which de Penthiere and his companions, dropping upon one knee, raised to their lips, one after the other.
“You are aware of the contents of the............
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