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HOME > Short Stories > Won by the Sword > CHAPTER XII: THE POITOU REGIMENT
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 “Well, MacIntosh,” Hector said as he entered the cabaret, “have you made up your mind? The castle is a strong one, and I mean to make it stronger. The air is good and so is the wine, and I am sure that you will find the duties pleasant. “If you go I think it would be as well that you should take a couple of your old comrades—you said there were many of them in Paris—with you, to act as your sergeants, drill the tenants, and see that all goes on in order. It will be pleasant for you to have two of your old friends with whom you can talk over past times.”
“I had decided to accept your offer, Hector; but certainly this would have decided me had I not already made up my mind. That was the one drawback, that I should be among strangers, but with two of my old friends I should not feel lonely. There is Sholto Macfarlane, he was in my troop. He lost a hand from his musket bursting three years ago, and now makes his living by helping the boatmen unload at the quays. Then there is Kenneth Munroe. He was invalided after a bad attack of fever in Flanders, and now teaches the broadsword exercise at a fencing master's place at St. Denis. They would both jump at the offer if they only got free lodgings and keep.”
“Then that is settled, MacIntosh. I am heartily glad of it. Now the sooner you get down there the better.”
“Well, I can go at once. Sergeant Morrison is taking his discharge at the end of the week. He is a married man with a helpful little wife. I was telling him of the offer that you had made me, and he asked me what I would take for the cabaret. It is a good business, and having a wife he could manage it better than I can. I said that if he had a fancy for it I would rather that he took it than another; and he would do better than a Frenchman would, for the lads would not care for the place unless it was kept by one of the regiment. He asked me what were the profits. I told him.
“'Then I am afraid that you would want a bigger sum than I could pay, MacIntosh,' he said. 'I have been a saving man, especially since I first thought of marrying, and I have laid by half my pay for the last eight years; but that would not go far towards the purchase of the place, for your profits in a year are as much as my savings of eight years.' So I said to him, 'Well, we will get the place valued. You will want half the money that you have saved to stock it well, the other half you shall pay me down; and I will give you five years to pay the rest, you paying me a tenth part every half year.'
“Well, sir, we struck a bargain on that. The place has been valued, and on Saturday evening Morrison will come straight in and take it over. He is a popular man in the regiment; and as he is only just leaving it he is known to them all, while there are not above a quarter of the men who knew me as a comrade in the old days.”
They then had a long talk over the sergeant's new duties, and Hector gave him a plan of the new fortifications that he had drawn out, together with full instructions how they were to be carried out.
“The steward will arrange all about the tenants coming to work, and the proportion of labour that each will have to give. As I have told you, he will manage all details of that kind, look after the indoor retainers, and see to the food. You will have entire control of the garrison, of the tenants who will come to drill, and of the works on the fortifications. You will find the steward a very pleasant and agreeable young man. He will take his meals with you. I have chosen a room for you, and you can have another near it for your two sergeants. You can pay them at the same rate as sergeants of the regiment receive, and I need hardly say that the position will be a good deal better. As commander of the garrison and castellan of the castle you will be called Captain MacIntosh, and as such you will be named in my letter appointing you to the post, and I propose that you shall receive the pay of captain.”
“The pay is immaterial, lad, I have been nigh twelve years here, and have laid by enough to keep me comfortably all my life, and as, so far as I can see, there will be nothing to spend down there, I don't know what I should do with pay.”
“That is nonsense, MacIntosh. You must draw the pay, and spend it as you like, or save it. You must remember that I may be killed in the next battle I go into, and as I have no heirs the king will give the fief to someone else. The newcomer might like myself have some friend who he might appoint castellan.”
“It would make no difference,” the other said. “In addition to what I have saved I shall have the price of the cabaret.”
“That is not to the point, MacIntosh. The steward has instructions to hand you your money monthly, while the garrison will be paid weekly. If you choose to throw the money into the fosse, that is your own business, mine is to see that my castellan is paid. I am going over at noon today to St. Denis, where my regiment is quartered, but will ride in on Saturday. You must buy three horses for yourself and your sergeants; get good serviceable animals.. I have told the steward to repay you their cost when you arrive there; he has monies of mine in hand for all purposes.”
Hector then went round and had a chat with Colonel Maclvor, and returned to the auberge, where the troopers and Paolo had the horses already saddled. He mounted and rode with them to St. Denis, putting up at an hotel. He found where the regiment of Poitou were stationed and at once proceeded there on foot. Two or three officers were chatting together in the barrack square, while some sergeants were drilling the companies.
He at once went up to them. “Gentlemen,” he said, “I must introduce myself to you. I am Colonel Campbell; I have the honour to command the regiment. I shall be glad if you will order the officer's call to be sounded and send orderlies off at once to the lodgings of the officers and ask them to assemble. To whom have I the pleasure of speaking?”
The senior officer introduced himself and the others. Report had told them that their new colonel was still a young man, and that he had served with distinction under both Turenne and Enghien, but they were not prepared for so young a commander as this. The French regiments had, as a rule, two colonels, the one a veteran soldier, who had won his way to the rank by long service and long fighting, the other a young nobleman who had gained the post solely by family influence, but possessed no knowledge whatever of military matters, and who was never with the regiment except when it went upon a campaign, and even then generally preferred the pleasures of Paris to the hardships of war. Had Hector been appointed to what was called the second no surprise would have been felt at his youth, but that anyone should have gained the position of first colonel at his age by sheer merit was astonishing indeed to them. In twenty minutes the officers were all assembled and introduced by the senior captain to Hector.
“We will not begin business now,” the latter said. “My leave of absence does not terminate until tomorrow morning, and I think that it is much more pleasant to talk over matters comfortably round a table than it is to do so in a set manner. Therefore, gentlemen, if you will all sup with me this evening at the Fleur de Lis, after we have finished our meal we will talk over our wine. My opinion is that officers of a regiment should be good comrades. The regiment benefits by it, and everything goes on more smoothly and comfortably. This is specially so in a newly raised regiment, where the officers either are altogether new to military matters, or join from other regiments, and have no previous knowledge of each other. In the same way the men are all new to each other, and to their officers. Unless there is perfect harmony among the officers, there cannot be perfect harmony in the regiment.
“If one officer looks after the comfort of his company, and treats them as he should do, while another company is neglected and left solely to the care of the sergeants, there will necessarily be envy and ill feeling. The regiment will cease to be a unit. I may say, gentlemen, that this is the dictum not of myself, but of Marshal Turenne, who was my instructor in the art of war, and who followed out the better system from the time that he was a boy of fourteen until now. The result is that his regiment is the finest in the service. It will be my aim and ambition to raise the Poitou regiment as nearly as possible to the same condition, and I shall rely upon your assistance and cooperation to bring this about.
“Supper will be served at six. I have only just returned from the country, and have heard no news. I suppose that no intimation has been received as to what is our destination and whither we shall march?”
“None whatever, colonel,” de Thiou, the senior captain, said.
“All the better. I hope that they will give us a couple of months to get into shape. There is but little time for drill and discipline when we are once in the field.”
So saying he saluted the officers and returned to the hotel.
“Who would have thought of seeing a mere lad placed at the head of the regiment as colonel,” one of the captains said. “I cannot imagine how such a thing can have come about, for certainly he can have no family influence. A newly raised regiment like ours wants a bright man, one that all can look up to and respect.”
“I fancy that you will find that this young gentleman will be respected,” de Thiou said. “He is young and pleasant looking, and whatever he is I should say that he is levelheaded, and that he has an infinite fund of firmness and resolution. I should certainly advise nobody to take advantage of his youth. I have seen more service than any of you, and had my family possessed any influence at court, I should have been a colonel by this time. Unless I am greatly mistaken we shall find that we have a man, a good man, and a strong one. Do you think that he could have won his way to a regiment at the age of twenty unless there had been something quite unusual? I was talking the other day with one of Gassion's staff, who has come back until the wound that he got at Rocroi is healed. He told me that Gassion—and France has no better soldier—said publicly after the battle that the victory was largely due to this young friend of ours, and that had it not been for him things might have gone altogether differently; and he said that Enghien, proud and ambitious as he is, frankly admitted the same thing. Of course I can only go upon what I have seen of him, but from what he said, and the manner in which he said it, I am convinced that we could not get a better chief than this young colonel. I believe that he will make it a comfortable regiment to be in, but I also believe that those who oppose him will find that they make a grievous mistake.”
The next day Hector took up in earnest the work of organizing the regiment. In the first place he insisted that the officers should learn their drill; then, that instead of handing over the practical command of their companies to their sergeants, they should themselves command them on the drill ground, look after the discipline and comfort of the men in barracks, and become personally acquainted with the character of every man under their command. Many of the sergeants were inefficient; these were speedily deprived of their rank, and men of good conduct and zeal appointed to their places. The regard of the men was won by his insisting that the contractors for their food should send in meat and bread and wine of the quality that they had guaranteed to supply.
Three officers were told off every day to examine the quality of all food sent in; any reported as being bad was examined by Hector, and if the complaint was well founded, was at once condemned. Great attention was paid to the cooking, to the cleanliness of the barrack rooms, and to many other details that had until then been entirely neglected. There were at first some grumblers, not only among the men, but among the officers as well; but the extraordinary and rapid improvement in the efficiency of the regiment, its appearance and condition, was such that these were not long in recognizing that although the work was hard, no unnecessary labour was imposed upon them, while, as their knowledge of drill increased the work became easier and less irksome. All recognized that by far the hardest worker in the regiment was the colonel himself. Every morning for the first month he himself drilled the officers in a courtyard that was not overlooked, and when they all knew their work, sent them to take charge of their companies. Until he considered the officers competent, he drilled the companies by turn, and when drill was over, made a tour of every room in the barracks, visited the kitchen, and conversed freely with the men, listening to any complaints.
At first the number of men brought up for drunkenness was large. The first offence he always condoned, giving the offender a lecture on the folly of his conduct and of the discredit that it brought upon the regiment. For the second offence a man was confined to barracks, and forced to wear his coat inside out even at drill. The ridicule that the men had to suffer was worse than any punishment inflicted upon them, and no case occurred of a third offence. By turns the three officers of each company dined with him, and, chatting with them as a friend, he not only gained their liking but made himself acquainted with their individual characters. Turenne came to Paris a short time after Hector assumed the command of his regiment, and as soon as he heard of his arrival, the latter called upon him.
“I heard from the cardinal of your good fortune,” the viscount said, “and congratulate you heartily upon it. Mazarin was good enough to say that the discovery of the Spaniards' ambush was the result of my teaching, and indeed I feel somewhat proud of my pupil. I am going to the Rhine, as perhaps you may have heard.”
“I hope to have the honour of serving under you with my regiment, sir.”
“I shall be glad to have you, but I fear there is little chance of it. I am to take the command of the Weimar troops. The death of the duke has been a heavy blow to us, and it is thought that unless I go down there—I say it because I have served there and am known by the Weimar troops—that force will break up altogether. From what I hear, I hardly think there is much chance of having any French regiments with me, and those now being raised are likely to be sent to fight under Enghien in Flanders. My position is, as you know, a painful one, owing to Bouillon having gone to Italy to take the command of the Pope's troops. I believe that is the reason why Mazarin has withdrawn me from the command of our army in Savoy. However, as a soldier I accept the work he has given me, not allowing family matters to interfere in any way with it, though it is my opinion that Bouillon has been very hardly treated by the breaking of the engagements that were given him when he surrendered Sedan to France.”
A week later Hector presented himself at the levee of Cardinal Mazarin.
“I was expecting to see you, baron. I received your note saying that you had taken the command of your regiment, and would do yourself the honour of presenting yourself as soon as you had put matters in trim. Are you satisfied with your men and your officers?”
“With both, your eminence, and trust that in two or three months' time you will do us the honour of inspecting us.”
“And how did you find your barony?”
“I was delighted with it. The castle is a strong one, and I am taking steps to add to its strength; and I believe when it is finished that it will be almost impregnable save by an army, and that well commanded.”
“Then you think,” the cardinal said with a smile, but with a certain air of seriousness, “that you could offer me a safe asylum if I needed one.”
“I trust that such an event may never occur, your eminence, but if it should, my castle is at your disposal, and I will guarantee that it will resist for three months, whoever might attack it.”
“One can never say,” the cardinal said mournfully. “Oh, these nobles! They are, as they have ever been, the curse of France. Each man thinks only of himself and of increasing his domains. What France may suffer matters nothing to them so that they are enriched. Were one of them capable of ruling France I would gladly retire; but who is there? Orleans, vain, empty headed, treacherous to his friends, a man whose word is not to be relied upon. Conde, who thinks only of enriching himself and adding to his possessions. Beaufort, a roistering trooper. None of these men could maintain his position for a moment. The whole country seethes with discontent at the heavy taxation necessitated by the war; Paris, as is always the case when there is trouble in the air, is restless and turbulent. I have good friends, but they are insufficient to sustain me against the intrigues of my enemies. The queen alone upholds me. Truly, the burden is too great for one man to bear.
“You will wonder why I am speaking thus to you, Colonel Campbell, but it is of the greatest necessity that her majesty should know upon whom she can rely absolutely in case of trouble. You, sir, being altogether unconnected with any of the great families of France, stand in a different position from that of the great majority of officers of your rank. Look where I will, I see our regiments officered by men connected by birth and family with one or other of the men who are at present intriguing against us, and were they ordered to take steps to arrest, for example, one of those persons connected with them, they might, without openly refusing, give such warning to them that they would be able to escape. Now, sir, I ask you to tell me frankly whether, under all contingencies, the queen can rely upon your services? I give you my word that whatever your reply is, it shall in no way count against you. There are cases in which it would doubtless be painful to you to carry out such an order. You are a protege of Monsieur de Turenne. Monsieur de Turenne is brother of the Duc de Bouillon, and, as I know, you yourself were staying for some months in the castle of Sedan, where you went to be cured of your wounds. Now, monsieur, frankly, were you ordered to arrest the Duc de Bouillon, would you carry it out without fear or favour?”
“Certainly I would, your excellency; and should you give such an order to Marshal Turenne he would do so himself. He is a soldier of the queen before all things, and has taught me that my duty is towards the sovereign who represents France, regardless of all other considerations.”
The cardinal while speaking had watched the young soldier's face scrutinizingly. Faithful as Turenne had always been to the crown, even when his brother was in arms against it, Mazarin had still in his heart some doubts as to his fidelity under all circumstances. He could not but be conscious that faith had been absolutely broken with Bouillon, and, accustomed to tortuous ways, he could scarce imagine that Turenne would hold hims............
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