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HOME > Short Stories > Won by the Sword > CHAPTER XI: THE CASTLE OF LA VILLAR
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 The next morning he called at eleven o'clock, at which hour the cardinal's secretary had informed him that Mazarin would expect him. He went to the abode of the minister. Mazarin received him with marked courtesy. “Here are the deeds appointing to you the estate of la Villar and your patent of nobility,” he said, pointing to a box upon his table. “You have been singularly fortunate, sir, and from all inquiries that I have made from officers who have served with Monsieur de Turenne, and, I may say, from Colonel Maclvor, I hear nothing but good of you, as a soldier devoted to duty, as a young man free from the vices and dissipations too common among those of your age, and as possessing intelligence as well as courage. Such men, sir, even royalty does well to attach to itself, and for them a splendid career is open. I, high as is the office in which Providence has placed me, may well envy you. You fight against the enemies of France; I am surrounded by enemies open and secret, and the war is no less earnest than that which Turenne and Enghien are waging.
“The great nobles of France are jealous that I, a foreigner, should have the ear of the queen, and be first minister of the country. Gladly indeed would I resign my position and return to my bishopric in Italy, were it not that I promised the great man to whose place I have so unworthily succeeded, that I would do my best for the country on whose behalf he spent every hour of his life, and that I would, unless driven from it by force, hold the seals of office until the young king should be old enough to rule France unaided. You, baron, are like myself a foreigner, and ready to risk your life in the service of France, and you will understand how I am situated and how I feel. You, happily for yourself, are not so highly placed as to excite enmity, although doubtless not a few of those who flocked round you yesterday evening to congratulate you on your good fortune felt a sensation of envy that a young soldier of fortune should be so honoured.
“In my case envy is accompanied by the deepest animosity. The great nobles find me an obstacle in the way of their grasping power, and they would hesitate at nothing to rid themselves of me. Were it not for the support of the queen, my position would be untenable even for an hour. Without me the queen herself would speedily become as much a cipher as she was so long as the weak king reigned. We have need, both of us, of men of heart and devotion such as I take you to be. I ask for no engagements, sir, but I felt that there was a genuine ring in your voice yesterday evening when you promised faithful service to her majesty, and I feel that if such service is needed you will be ready to render it.”
“I shall indeed, your eminence. I cannot conceive that any circumstances can occur that would render such aid as I could offer of service to you, but be assured that should such an occasion arise, the queen may count upon me to render it to the extent of my life; and when I say the queen I, of course, include your eminence as her trusted adviser and supporter.”
“Well spoken, sir. I believe your words, and it may be that the occasion is not so far distant as you may imagine. Here is the box, sir. By the way, it will, I am sure, be a pleasure for you to know that her majesty has the intention of creating the Viscount de Turenne field marshal as soon as he arrives in Paris.”
“It is indeed, monseigneur; never did a soldier better earn such honour. There, indeed sir, is a true and noble heart, loyal to his duty beyond all things, adored by his soldiers, ready to serve under officers altogether inferior to himself, incapable of jealousy, and devoted to his sovereign and his country.”
“You do not speak too warmly of him,” the cardinal said; “and among all the difficulties of the situation there seems to be but one fixed point, and that point is that upon Monsieur de Turenne we can at least confidently rely.”
Hector felt that his audience was at an end, and taking the box from the table, and again thanking the cardinal for the honour bestowed upon him, he retired. The cardinal's chamberlain met him at the door. “Will you step in here, monsieur le baron?” he said, and led the way into a small apartment. “As a stranger to the court, monsieur, you are probably unaware of the value of the gift that has been granted to you, or of its duties and obligations.”
“Altogether, sir; beyond the fact that it is in Poitou, which her majesty mentioned yesterday, I know absolutely nothing about it.”
“Without being an estate of the first class,” the chamberlain said, “it is one which is of importance in its province. The revenue is punctually paid and is amply sufficient to enable its lord to make a good figure at court, and to rank among the notables in the province. It is a fief held directly from the crown; its owner is bound to furnish feudal service of twenty-five mounted men and twenty-five arquebusiers, or, should he prefer it, fifty horsemen in all. Some of its owners have in times of peril raised a force of thrice that strength. So you will see that the Lord of la Villar is not an unimportant personage. The estate is held at present by a royal intendant. You will find in that box an order for him to place you in possession of the castle and estate whensoever you may present yourself, and as at the present moment your services can be spared from the army, it might be as well to visit it at once, if only for a few days. Possibly the cardinal did not inform you that he has ordered that the regiment that has been just recruited shall bear the name of the regiment of Poitou, and has appointed you to its command.”
This news gave much greater pleasure to Hector than did the gift of the fief, or the rank that accompanied it.
“Will you please give my earnest thanks to his excellency,” he said, “and assure him that he can depend upon my devotion.”
When Hector returned to the Hotel Conde he found that the soldiers who had started with him from Rocroi had all arrived, bringing with them the twelve horses that had been left on the road; four of these were to be handed over to each of the officers. The division was just being made as he entered the courtyard, each officer taking the four he had ridden by the way.
Paolo at once came up to him. “What are we to do with these horses, master?” he asked, with an air of bewilderment.
“We have now seven of them, counting mine, the one I led, and that you rode when you set out.”
“I must see where I can bestow them for the present until we think the matter over;” and going up to one of Conde's officers, he asked him if he could recommend a place where he might leave safely four horses for a time.
“The auberge of the Pome d'Or is but a street from here, monsieur; it has good stables, and the host is an honest man, which is not often the case with men of his class. When the stables here are full the prince often engages extra stalls there for the use of his guests. I will send four men with the horses at once, if such is your pleasure.”
“You will greatly oblige me by doing so,” Hector replied. Having seen the horses safely and comfortably lodged at the inn, Hector returned to the hotel with Paolo.
“You are not tired, I hope, Paolo?” he asked as they walked back.
“No, master; we have taken three days to do what you did in one, and have fatigued neither ourselves nor our beasts.”
“That is well, for I am going to start on a journey this afternoon, that is to say, if I can manage to make my arrangements.”
“May I ask where you are going, master?”
“You will be surprised to hear that I am going to visit my estates in Poitou.”
Paolo looked sharply up to see whether Hector was joking. Seeing that he looked serious, he said hesitatingly, “But I did not know, master, that you had estates in Poitou. I never heard you speak of them.”
“Because I had them not, Paolo. That box that you are carrying holds the titles. The fief was granted to me last night by the queen herself, the Duc d'Enghien and General Gassion having been good enough to make a good deal more of that night adventure of ours than it deserved. The estates carry a title with them, and I am now the Baron de la Villar.”
Paolo gave an exclamation of delight. “Well, master, I am glad indeed; but,” he went on in a changed tone, “now that you, monsieur, have become a noble, you will no longer require the services of a lad from Savoy.”
“Indeed I shall, Paolo, as long as you choose to remain with me. Why, have you not shared with me in the adventures, one of which made me a captain, and the other a colonel and a noble? Of course I shall have other servants, but you will always be my bodyservant and companion.”
“And are you going to leave the army, monsieur?” Paolo asked, after pouring out his thanks.
“No, I shall still remain in the army. Turenne will be in Paris soon, and will then go to the Rhine to take the command there, and I hope to go with my regiment.”
“Then you have a regiment, master?”
“Yes; one of the newly formed regiments has been named the regiment of Poitou, and I am to have the command. Of course, it may be sent either to him or to Enghien, but I hope that it will be to Turenne; and I should think so, because from what I hear there is scarcely any army left on the Rhine, and therefore it is probable that the new regiments will all be sent there, as Enghien's force is quite sufficient to cope with any enemy he is likely to meet with in Flanders. Now, I am going down to the barracks, and for the next two or three hours you can amuse yourself by taking a look at Paris.”
It was not to the barracks that Hector made his way, but to The Scottish Soldier.
“I did not expect to see you so soon again, colonel. Your man brought me word that I was not to come this morning, as you would be engaged,” the sergeant said when he entered.
“Yes, but our talk was only postponed, sergeant; now I want you to aid me in a matter that I have on hand.”
“What sort of matter is it?”
“I want to find four good men to take into my service. The queen has granted me an estate, as if a colonelcy was not an ample and more than ample reward for discovering that ambuscade. It is the fief of la Villar in Poitou, and the most absurd point of the thing is that with it is a title, and I am now Colonel Campbell, Baron de la Villar.”
“Well, well,” the sergeant exclaimed; “you will be coming and telling me next that you are going to marry a princess of the blood. Did one ever hear of such things! However, Hector, lad, I congratulate you with all my heart, and I am as glad as if it had been a bairn of my own that had had your good fortune. Now, in what can I help you about the four men? What sort of men do you want?”
“I want four good men and true, sergeant, men that I can rely upon. I shall want them to ride with me in the field as orderlies, for I have been appointed to the command of an infantry regiment. Of course, I should like young and active men, but that they should be steady and accustomed to arms is still more important.”
“I know but few men outside the regiment,” the sergeant said. “The laddies like to have the place to themselves, and I don't encourage others about; but if you can do with good men who have somewhat passed their prime, but are still capable of service and handy with their arms, I know just the men that will suit you. We had a little bit of trouble in the regiment a week since; four of the men—Allan Macpherson, Jock Hunter, Donald Nicholl, and Sandy Grahame—came in after tattoo, and all a bit fu'. It was not here they got it, though; I know better than to supply men with liquor when it is time for them to be off to the barracks. Captain Muir, who is the only dour carl in the regiment, happened to be on duty, and he spoke a good deal more hardly to them than to my mind there was any occasion, seeing that they are good soldiers and not in the guardroom more often than others. They answered him more freely, no doubt, than they would have done had they not been in their cups.
“They were had up before the colonel the next morning. They had all served their time, and having been greatly angered at their treatment, they at once up and told the colonel that they would take their discharges. The colonel would have pacified them, but Captain Muir stood out strongly, and said that if such insolence as theirs was allowed to go unpunished it would be a bad example indeed for the regiment; so the colonel paid them up to the day and gave them their papers. It has caused a lot of feeling in the regiment, as you may guess, and the men all groaned and booed when Muir came on parade the next day, and it was as much as the colonel himself—whom they all love as a father—could do to silence them. It is said that he spoke very sharply to Muir afterwards, and that it is likely the captain will get transferred to another regiment. However, that is too late for the men who have left. Their comrades are going to get up a subscription to send them back to Scotland, for you may be sure the hotheaded fools have not a bawbee of their pay laid by.”
“I know them all, sergeant, and I should say they would be the very men to suit me; they are all strong and hearty fellows, and might have been good for another ten years campaigning if it had not been for this business. Can you send for them?”
“They will all be here in half an hour for their meal,” the sergeant said. “They are lodged upstairs, for you may be sure that they would come to me; and even if I kept them for six months, I should not have lost much when I reckon what they have spent here during their service. I have no doubt they will jump at the offer; for they were mere lads when they came over—it was your father who sent for them—and I know that they reckon they will find none of the old folk when they return home. And now what are your estates like, lad?”
“I know very little about them at present, beyond the fact that I am bound by my feudal obligations to put fifty men in the field when called upon to do so.”
“Then it must be a place of good size,” the sergeant said. “And you hold it direct from the crown?”
Hector nodded.
“That is good. When you hold from one of the great lords, you never know whom you may be called upon to fight against—it may be the king, it may be his minister, it may be some other noble—while holding direct, you have only the king's enemies to fight against.”
“Or rather, MacIntosh, the chief minister's enemies; for, after all, when a king signs a proclamation, it is usually a minister's signature that ought to be attached to it.”
“Well, well, Master Hector, it makes little difference to us Scots who it is that we fight for, it is no quarrel of ours. We have taken service under the King of France; but when there are two parties, and each claims to be in favour of the king, we have simply to fight for whoever happens to have the king's signature. If they both have it, then it is the general who commands our division w............
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