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HOME > Short Stories > Won by the Sword > CHAPTER XV: THE BATTLE OF MARIENTHAL
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 The decision had scarcely been made when one of the lieutenants ran in. “Captain Mieville requests me to state that sounds have been heard in the forest, and that he believes there is a large body of men approaching.” “Then, ladies, I must beg you to mount the stairs to the turret at once. I will place six men on guard there. The main body I must keep in front of the chateau, as that affords a protection to our rear. Do not be alarmed. I do not think the place is likely to be attacked; but should it be, the six men could hold it for any time. As soon as I have beaten the main body I will at once attack those who may be assailing the turret, though I hardly think that they will do so, for they know that there is nothing to be obtained that would in any way repay them for the loss that they would suffer. They are marching here for the purpose of attacking us.”
He called to the two sentries.
“See the ladies up the stairs to the turret, and take up your post on the lower stairs. Four more men shall join you at once.”
He found that Mieville had already got all the men under arms, and had ranged them between the bivouac fires and the still glowing chateau.
“Move your men along farther, Mieville. Let your left flank rest on the angle of the old castle, then we shall not be made anxious by another attack on the turret. Let the right flank rest upon the chateau where the old castle joins it. We shall then be in darkness, while the assailants, if they come from that side, will have to cross the ground lit up by the glow from the ruins. Let the centre of the line be some ten yards in front of the building; let the line be two deep.”
As soon as this disposition was made he called down the six men, as they were no longer required to defend the staircase.
“Now, men,” he said when all were formed up, “I need not admonish soldiers who were so firm under the attack of the whole of the Bavarian army of the necessity for steadiness. I have no doubt that if we are attacked it will be in considerable force; but it will be by half armed peasants, and there probably will not be a gun among them. But even peasants, when worked up into a state of excitement are not to be despised. My orders are: The front rank shall continue firing until they are close at hand, and shall then fix bayonets. Until this is done the second line are not to fire a shot; but as soon as the front rank are ready to repel the enemy with fixed bayonets, you will begin. Don't throw a shot away, but continue loading and firing, as quickly as you can; and unless very closely pressed, let no man empty his musket until his comrade on the right has reloaded, so that there will always be some shots in reserve. Should they rush on in spite of the fire, I shall give the order, 'Empty your muskets and fix bayonets,' and we will then charge them. Hunter, you and your three comrades and Paolo will keep close to me, and if we find the men wavering at any point we will go to their assistance. If, however, we charge, remember that you six men I told off to guard the turret are at once to pass through the gates and take up your post on the steps, for some of them may slip in behind us and endeavour to rush up.”
The horses, that had been turned loose when Hector and the troopers mounted the steps, had been seized by the peasants, and tied up to some trees close by when the latter began to feast. They had been recovered when the insurgents were scattered by Mieville's company and had then been placed in the courtyard of the castle. As soon as the alarm was given, Hector, the four troopers, and Paolo had mounted. The three officers were also on horseback.
“In case the company charges, Mieville,” he said, “we nine mounted men can cover the rear and charge any of the insurgents who try to rush in and take them in the rear. I hope that we shall keep them off with our musketry fire; but I don't disguise from myself that if they fall upon us at close quarters we shall have to fight hard. Ah, here they come!”
Suddenly in the darkness from the other side of the chateau a great crowd of men poured out, shouting and yelling furiously, and brandishing their rough weapons, which shone blood red in the glow of the fire in the ruins. Someone had evidently been placed on the watch, and had told them where the troops had taken up their post, for they came on without hesitation, bearing outwards until they faced the centre of the line, at a distance of fifty yards; then one of the men, who appeared to be the leader, shouted an order, and they rushed impetuously forward. The front line at once opened fire. Many of the peasants dropped, while the others hesitated a little, and so gave the men who had first fired time to reload; but, urged on by the shouts of their leaders, the peasants again rushed forward.
“Fire a volley, and then fix bayonets!” Hector shouted. The fifty muskets flashed out, and as the peasants were but fifteen yards away every shot told, and their front rank was completely swept away.
“Every other man in the second line fire!” Hector ordered, and twenty-five shots added to the confusion among the peasants. The slaughter, however, only had the effect of maddening the great crowd, who numbered upwards of two thousand, and with a howl of fury they rushed forward again. Hector waited until they almost touched the row of bayonets, and then gave the order for the remaining men to fire and all to fix bayonets. The instant this was done he shouted “Charge!” for he saw that while standing quiet his men were no match for the peasants, whose long poles with the scythes at the end gave them great advantage over the shorter weapons of the soldiers. With a cheer the latter threw themselves upon their opponents, their close formation and more handy weapons depriving their enemies of this advantage. Thrusting and overthrowing all in front of them, the line burst its way through the mob, the little party of cavalry charging furiously whenever the peasants endeavoured to fall upon their rear, and the latter, boldly as they fought against the infantry, shrank back before the flashing swords and the weight of horses and riders.
As soon as they had passed through the crowd Hector gave the order for his troops to face about, and they again burst their way through the mob that had closed in behind them. Four times was the manoeuvre repeated, the resistance growing fainter each time, as the peasants found themselves unable to withstand the charge of the disciplined troops. When for the fifth time they reached the gate of the castle the crowd no longer pressed upon their rear, but stood hesitatingly some fifty yards away. Hector took advantage of the pause, and ordered his men, who were panting from their exertions, to load again. He formed them in single line now.
“Don't fire a shot until I give the word,” he said; “then pour in your volley, fix bayonets instantly, and charge.”
Standing in the shade as they did, the movement of loading was unobserved by the peasants, who, as they saw the line again advancing, prepared to meet them, but gave a yell of surprise when a terrible volley was poured into them at a distance of twenty yards. Then, before they had recovered from their surprise, the long line was upon them with levelled bayonets. Only a few stood their ground. These were instantly overthrown. The rest, throwing away their weapons, fled in all directions.
“Thank God that is over!” Hector said, as he told the troops to halt and reload. “If they had all been as courageous as their leader they would have annihilated us, but each time we charged I observed that a considerable number fell away on either flank, so that it was not a solid mass through which we had to make our way. What is our loss, Mieville?”
“I rode along the line and counted the numbers. There are but seventy-five on foot,” he said, “and most of these have got more or less severe wounds with their ugly weapons.”
“Let the ground over which we have passed be carefully searched,” he said, “and any of our men who show signs of life be carried in front of the chateau.”
Twelve men were found to be living; their wounds were at once attended to and bandaged.
“I think most of them will do,” Captain Mieville said. “They are ugly looking gashes, but it is not like a bullet in the body.”
The men who had been killed were found in most cases to have been slain outright from the blows of hatchets, which had in several cases completely severed their heads. While the wounds of the soldiers were being attended to, Hector went to the gate at which the baroness and her daughter were now standing.
“You are unhurt, I hope,” the lady said as Hector approached.
“I have two or three more wounds,” he said, “but, like those I had before, they are of little account.”
“It was a terrible fight,” she said. “We watched it from the top of the turret, and it seemed to us that you were lost each time you plunged into the crowd, you were so few among such numbers. Have you lost any men?”
“We have only had thirteen killed outright,” he said. “Twelve more are very seriously wounded, but I think most of them will recover. As to the rest of the company, I fancy that most of them will require some bandaging. And now I shall recommend you and your daughter to return to your shelter. I have no fear whatever of their coming back again.”
“That we cannot do,” she said firmly. “It is our duty to do what we can to aid those who have fought so bravely.”
“The men are now attending to each other's wounds,” Hector said. “Every man in my regiment carries, by my orders, a couple of bandages. We found them most useful at Freiburg, and many a life was saved that would have been lost but for their use; but if you insist upon doing anything, I would ask you to carry wine and water round. The troopers will draw the water for you from the well in the courtyard here.”
“That we will do willingly,” she said.
For the next two hours the ladies were busy at work, moving among the men and supplying them with refreshments. Not until all their wants were amply supplied did they retire.
In the morning Hector said: “Now, Madame de Blenfoix, I have been thinking the matter over, and consider that it would be a wholly unnecessary journey and a loss of four days were you to travel to Nancy with us. You are only ten days' journey from Poitou, and I should advise you to start at once. My man, Paolo, and two of the troopers will accompany you as an escort. Your road will lead through Orleans, which will be almost halfway, and you will also pass through Tours. At both these towns you can, if you will, stay for a day to rest. I will ride down with you into Blenfoix, where I shall be able to get paper and pens, and will write letters to Captain MacIntosh and to my intendant explaining exactly the position that you will occupy. One of the troopers will ride forward with these from your last halting place before you arrive there, in order that you may find everything prepared and be received properly on your arrival. Do you both ride, or would you rather have a pillion's place behind the troopers?”
“We both ride,” she said; “but I should prefer, on a journey like this, that my daughter should ride behind me on a pillion. You are altogether too good, Colonel Campbell. You are heaping kindnesses upon us.”
“Not at all, madam. And now you will doubtless be glad to hear that in searching round the place this morning, we have discovered that two of your horses that had doubtless been turned loose by the peasants have found their way back. No difficulty will therefore arise on that score. The saddles are hanging from the beams in the stable, so that everything is in readiness for your departure.”
A quarter of an hour later the whole party left the ruined chateau, the troops taking their way to the point at which they had left the road, while Hector with his four troopers and Paolo rode down into Blenfoix with the ladies. Here the baroness purchased a few necessaries for the journey while Hector was writing his letters. Hunter and Macpherson were to form their escort, and were by turns to lead the spare horse, which on alternate days was to carry the double burden. Paolo carried the purse, which contained a sum ample for the expenses of the journey. When all was ready the adieus were said, and the baroness repeated the heartfelt thanks of her daughter and herself for the kindness shown them. Paolo took his place beside the ladies, the two troopers fell in behind, and they started west, while Hector with the other two troopers galloped off to overtake his company.
At Joinville they found that de Thiou's company had just marched in, but it was not until the next day that the other two returned. All had met with scattered bodies of peasants, but these had dispersed as soon as the troops were seen, and there had been no actual fighting except with the parties Hector had met. The bodies of the soldiers that had fallen were buried near the chateau. Those of the peasants were left where they lay, and would doubtless be carried off by their friends as soon as the latter knew that the troops had left. The lesson had been a severe one indeed, upwards of two hundred and eighty being killed in the two encounters. The insurgents were completely disheartened by their loss, and during the rest of the winter the aid of the troops was not again called for.
As soon as spring set in, the Poitou regiment marched to join the marshal. The Bavarian army had been weakened by the withdrawal of four thousand men to aid the Imperialists, who had been defeated by the Swedes in Bohemia. Turenne, on hearing the news, at once prepared to take advantage of it, crossed the Rhine on a bridge of boats at Spires, and passed the Neckar, General Merci retiring before him. Stuttgart opened its gates, and Turenne established himself at Marienthal on the river Tauber. Merci, as he fell back, had caused a rumour to be spread that he was making for the Danube.
There was a great scarcity of forage in the country round Marienthal, and the officers of the cavalry strongly urged upon Turenne that they should divide and take up stations at various points where they could obtain food for their animals, which were much exhausted by their long and heavy marches. Turenne for some time resisted their entreaties, but at last, seeing that the cavalry would speedily be ruined unless they could obtain food, permitted this course to be taken. Before allowing them to leave, however, he sent parties of horse forward in various directions to discover what the enemy were doing. These returned with the news that the Bavarian army had broken up, and was fortifying itself in the towns among which it had been divided. Turenne, however, was still apprehensive. He kept his cannon and the greater part of the infantry with him, and also General Rosen with a portion of his horse, and refused to let the rest of the cavalry go farther than three leagues from the army. He himself rode out with a regiment of cavalry some ten miles beyond Marienthal, along the road by which the Imperialists would advance were they to assemble to attack him.
At two o'clock the next morning a party he had sent to watch the Bavarians brought in the news that Merci was advancing with all his force. Rosen was orde............
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