Bonnie Prince Charlie; A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden

CHAPTER IV: In France.

The next day Malcolm went out alone, and on his return told Ronald that there were placards on the walls offering a reward of a hundred pounds for his apprehension.

“You don’t think the people below have any suspicion, Malcolm?”

“Not they,” Malcolm replied. “I was telling them last night after you had gone to bed all about the places you have been voyaging to, and how anxious your father, a snug farmer near Newcastle, was to have you back again. I had spoken to them before so as to prepare them for your coming, and the old woman takes quite an interest in you, because her son at sea is a lad just about your age. I have brought you in a suit of sailor clothes; we will go down and have a chat with them after the shop is closed of a night. You will remember Newcastle and the farm, and can tell them of your escape from Greek pirates, and how nearly you were taken by a French frigate near the straits.”

The consternation of the watch at Ronald’s escape was extreme. The shot which the man on guard had fired was their first intimation of the event, and seizing their muskets they had hastily discharged them in the direction of the fugitive, and had then shouted for a boat to be lowered.

But never was a boat longer getting into the water than was that of the Glasgow Lass upon this occasion. The captain gave his orders in a leisurely way, and the crew were even slower in executing them. Then somehow the fall stuck and the boat wouldn’t lower. When at last she was in the water it was found that the thole pins were missing; these being found she was rowed across the river, the five constables undergoing a running fire of jokes and hilarity from the sailors of the ships they passed near. In answer to their inquiries where the fugitives landed, some of the sailors shouted that she had pulled up the river behind the tier of vessels, others insisted that she had sunk with all hands close by.

Completely bewildered, the chief of the party told the sailors to put them ashore at the first landing. When the party gained the streets they inquired eagerly of all they met whether they had seen aught of the fugitives. Few of those they questioned understood the broad Scotch in which the question was asked, others laughed in their faces and asked how they were to know the man and boy they wanted from any others; and after vainly looking about for some time they returned to the stairs, only to find that the boat had returned to the ship.

A waterman’s boat was now hired, and the rower, who had heard what had happened, demanded a sum for putting them on board which horrified them; but at last, after much bargaining, they were conveyed back to the ship.

An hour later the chief of the party went ashore, and repairing to the Tower, where he had been ordered to conduct the prisoner, reported his escape. He was at once taken into custody on the charge of permitting the escape of his prisoner, and it was not until three days later, upon the evidence of his men and of the captain and officers of the ship, that he was released.

His four men were put on board a ship returning to Glasgow next day, while he himself was kept to identify the fugitive should he be caught.

A week later Malcolm told Ronald that he had made arrangements with the captain of a Dutch vessel to take them over to Holland.

“We are to go on board at Gravesend,” he said, “for they are searching all ships bound for foreign ports. It is not for you especially, but there are supposed to be many Jacobites going to and fro, and they will lay hands on anyone who cannot give a satisfactory account of himself. So it is just as well for us to avoid questioning.”

Accordingly the next day they walked down to Gravesend, and taking boat there boarded the Dutch vessel when she came along on the following day.

The Dutch captain received them civilly; he had been told by Malcolm that they wished to leave the country privately, and guessed that they were in some way fugitives from the law, but as he was to be well paid this gave him no concern. There were no other passengers, and a roomy cabin was placed at their disposal. They passed down the river without impediment, and anchored that night off Sheerness.

“These Dutch traders are but slow craft,” Malcolm said as he walked impatiently up and down the deck next morning, watching the slow progress which they made past the shore. “I wish we could have got a passage direct to France, but of course that is impossible now the two nations are at war.”

“What is the war about, Malcolm? I heard at home that they were fighting, but yet that somehow the two countries were not at war.”

“No, I don’t know how that comes about,” Malcolm said. “England has a minister still at Paris; but for all that King George is at the head of a number of British troops in Germany fighting against the French there.”

“But what is it about, Malcolm?”

“Well, it is a matter which concerns Hanover more than England; in fact England has no interest in the matter at all as far as I can see, except that as France takes one side she takes the other, because she is afraid of France getting too strong. However, it is a German business, and England is mixed up in it only because her present king is a Hanoverian and not an Englishman. This is the matter as far as I can make it out.

Charles VI., Emperor of Germany, died in October, 1740. It had been arranged by a sort of general agreement called the Pragmatic Sanction –“

“What an extraordinary name, Malcolm! What does it mean?”

“I have not the least idea in the world, lad. However, that is what it is called. It was signed by a lot of powers, of whom England was one, and by it all parties agreed that Charles’s daughter Maria Theresa was to become Empress of Austria. However, when the emperor was dead the Elector of Bavaria claimed to be emperor, and he was supported by France, by Spain, and by Frederick of Prussia, and they marched to Vienna, enthroned the elector as Duke of Austria, and drove Maria Theresa to take refuge in Hungary, where she was warmly supported.

“The English parliament voted a large sum to enable the empress to carry on the war, and last year sixteen thousand men under the Earl of Stair crossed the seas to cooperate with the Dutch, who were warm supporters of the empress, and were joined by six thousand Hessians and sixteen thousand Hanoverians in British pay; but after all nothing was done last year, for as in the last war the Dutch were not ready to begin, and the English army were in consequence kept idle.”

“Then it seems that everyone was against the empress except England and these three little states.”

“That is pretty nearly so,” Malcolm said; “but at present the empress has bought off the Prussians, whose king joined in the affair solely for his own advantage, by giving him the province of Silesia, so that in fact at present it is England and Hanover, which is all the same thing, with the Dutch and Hessians, against France and Bavaria, for I don’t think that at present Spain has sent any troops.”

“Well, it seems to me a downright shame,” Ronald said indignantly; “and though I have no great love for the English, and hate their Hanoverian George and his people, I shouldn’t like to fight with one of the Scotch regiments in the French service in such a quarrel.”

Malcolm laughed.

“My dear lad, if every soldier were to discuss the merits of the quarrel in which he is ordered to fight there would be an end of all discipline.”

“Yes, I see that,” Ronald agreed; “if one is once a soldier he has only to obey orders. But one need not become a soldier just at the time when he would be called upon to fight for a cause which he considers unjust.”

“That is so, Ronald, and it’s fortunate, if your feelings are in favour of Maria Theresa, that we are not thinking of enlisting just at present, for you would be puzzled which side to take. If you fought for her you would have to fight under the Hanoverian; if you fight against the Hanoverian you are fighting against Maria Theresa.”

“Well, we don’t want to fight at all,” Ronald said. “What we want to do is to find out something about my father. I wish the voyage was at an end, and that we had our faces towards Paris.”

“It will not be so easy to cross from Holland into France,” Malcolm said.

“I wish our voyage was at an end for another reason, for unless I mistake there is a storm brewing up.”

Malcolm’s prediction as to the weather was speedily verified. The wind rose rapidly, ragged clouds hurried across the sky, and the waves got up fast, and by nightfall the sea had become really heavy, dashing in sheets high in the air every time the bluff bowed craft plunged into it. Long before this Ronald had gone below prostrate with seasickness.

“It’s just like the obstinacy of these Dutchmen,” Malcolm muttered to himself as he held on by a shroud and watched the labouring ship. “It must have been clear to anyone before we were well out of the river that we were going to have a gale, and as the wind then was nearly due south, we could have run back again and anchored in shelter till it was over.

Now it has backed round nearly into our teeth, with every sign of its getting into the north, and then we shall have the French coast on our lee. It’s not very serious yet, but if the wind goes on rising as it has done for the last four or five hours we shall have a gale to remember before the morning.”

Before the daylight, indeed, a tremendous sea was running, and the wind was blowing with terrible force from the north. Although under but a rag of canvas the brig was pressed down gunwale deep, and each wave as it struck her broadside seemed to heave her bodily to leeward. Malcolm on coming on deck made his way aft and glanced at the compass, and then took a long look over the foaming water towards where he knew the French coast must lie. The wind was two or three points east of north, and as the clumsy craft would not sail within several points of the wind she was heading nearly east.

“She is making a foot to leeward for every one she forges ahead,” he said to himself. “If she has been at this work all night we cannot be far from the coast.”

So the Dutch skipper appeared to think, for a few minutes afterwards he gave orders to bring her about on the other tack. Three times they tried and failed; each time the vessel slowly came up into the wind, but the heavy waves forced her head off again before the headsails filled. Then the skipper gave orders to wear her. Her head payed off to the wind until she was nearly before it. Two or three great seas struck her stern and buried her head deeply, but at last the boom swung over and her head came up on the other tack. During the course of these manoeuvres she had made fully two miles leeway, and when she was fairly under sail with her head to the west Malcolm took another long look towards the south.

“Just as I thought,” he said. “There is white water there and a dark line behind it. That is the French coast, sure enough.”

It would have been useless to speak, but he touched the arm of the skipper and pointed to leeward. The skipper looked in this direction for a minute and then gave the order for more sail to be put on the ship, to endeavour to beat out in the teeth of the gale. But even when pressed to the utmost it was evident to Malcolm that the force of the waves was driving her faster towards the coast than she could make off it, and he went below and told Ronald to come on deck.

“I would rather lie here,” Ronald said.

“Nonsense, lad! The wind and spray will soon knock the sickness out of you; and you will want all your wits about you, for it won’t be many hours before we are bumping on the sands, and stoutly built as the craft is she won’t hold together long in such a sea as this.”

“Do you really mean it, Malcolm, or are you only trying to get me on deck?”

“I mean it, lad. We are drifting fast upon the French coast, and there is no hope of her clawing off in the teeth of such a gale as this.”

The news aroused Ronald effectually. He had not suffered at all on the voyage down from Glasgow, and he was already beginning to feel better when Malcolm went down to call him. He was soon on deck holding on by the bulwark.

“There it is, that long low black line; it looks a long way off because the air is full of spray and the coast is low, but it’s not more than three or four miles; look at that broad belt of foam.”

For some hours the Dutch skipper did his best to beat to windward, but in vain, the vessel drove nearer and nearer towards the shore; the anchors were got in readiness, and when within a quarter of a mile of the line of breakers the vessel’s head was brought up into the wind, and the lashings of the two anchors cut simultaneously.

“Will they hold her, do you think?” Ronald asked.

“Not a chance of it, Ronald. Of course the captain is right to try; but no cables were ever made would hold such a bluff bowed craft as this in the teeth of such a wind and sea.”

The cables ran out to the bitts. Just as they tightened a great sea rolled in on the bow. Two dull reports were heard, and then her head payed off. The jib was run up instantly to help her round, and under this sail the brig was headed directly towards the shore. The sea was breaking round them now; but the brig was almost flat bottomed and drew but little water. All on board hung on to the shrouds and bulwarks, momentarily expecting a crash, but she drove on through the surf until within a hundred yards of the shore. Then as she went down in the trough of a wave there was a mighty crash. The next wave swept her forward her own length.

Then there was another crash even more tremendous than the first, and her masts simultaneously went over the side. The next wave moved her but a few feet; the one which followed, finding her immovable, piled itself higher over her, and swept in a cataract down her sloping deck. Her stern had swung round after the first shot, and she now lay broadside to the waves. The Dutch skipper and his crew behaved with the greatest calmness; the ship lay over at such an angle that it was impossible to stand on the deck; but the captain managed to get on the upper rail, and although frequently almost washed off by the seas, contrived to cut the shrouds and ropes that still attached the masts to the ship there. Then he joined the crew, who were standing breast high in the water on the lee side, the floating masts were pulled in until within a few yards of the vessel, and such of the crew as could swim made towards them.

The skipper cut the last rope that bound them, and then plunged in and joined his men. The distance was little over fifty yards to the shore, and the wreck formed a partial shelter. A crowd of people were assembled at the edge of the beach with ropes in readiness to give any assistance in their power. Malcolm and Ronald were among those who had swum to the masts, but when within a short distance of the shore the former shouted in the latter’s ear:

“Swim off, lad, the masts might crush us.”

As soon as they neared the shore a number of ropes were thrown. Most of the sailors, seeing the danger of being crushed, followed the example of Malcolm, and left the masts. Malcolm and Ronald swam just outside the point where the waves broke until a line fell in the water close to them.

They grasped it at once.

“Give it a twist round your arm,” Malcolm shouted, “or the backwash will tear you from it.”

The sailors on shore watched their opportunity, and the instant a wave passed beneath the two swimmers ran up the beach at full speed with the rope. There was a crash. Ronald felt himself shot forward with great rapidity, then as he touched the ground with his feet they were swept from under him, and so great was the strain that he felt as if his arm was being pulled from the socket. A few seconds later he was lying at full length upon the sands, and before the next wave reached him a dozen men had rushed down and seized him and Malcolm, and carried them beyond its influence. For a minute or two Ronald felt too bruised and out of breath to move. Then he heard Malcolm’s voice:

“Are you hurt, Ronald?”

“No; I think not, Malcolm,” he replied, making an effort to sit up. “Are you?”

“No, lad; bruised a bit, but no worse.”

One by one the sailors were brought ashore, one with both legs broken from the force with which he was dashed down by the surf, and one man who stuck to the mast was crushed to death as it was rolled over and over on to the beach. The captain and three sailors were, like Malcolm and Ronald, unhurt. There still remained four men on the wreck. Fortunately she had struck just at high tide, and so stoutly was she built that she held together in spite of the tremendous seas, and in an hour the four sailors were able to wade breast high to the shore.

They found that the spot where the vessel had struck was half a mile west of Gravelines. They were taken to the town, and were hospitably entertained. A small body of soldiers were quartered there, and the officer in command told the Dutch skipper, that as the two nations were at war he and his crew must be detained until he received orders respecting them. On learning from Malcolm that he and Ronald were passengers, and were Scotsmen making their way from England to escape imprisonment as friends of the Stuarts, and that he had for twelve years served in one of the Scotch regiments of Louis, and was now bound for Paris, the officer said that they were free to continue their journey at once.

It was two or three days before they started, for they found the next morning that they were both too severely bruised to set out at once on the journey. As Malcolm had taken care to keep the purse containing Ronald’s money securely fastened to a belt under his clothes they had no lack of funds; but as time was no object they started for Paris on foot.

Ronald greatly enjoyed the journey. Bright weather had set in after the storm. It was now the middle of May, all nature was bright and cheerful, the dresses of the peasantry, the style of architecture so different to that to which he was accustomed in Scotland, and everything else were new and strange to him. Malcolm spoke French as fluently as his own language, and they had therefore no difficulty or trouble on the way.

They arrived at Paris without any adventure. Malcolm went to a cabaret which had at the time when he was in the French service been much frequented by Scotch soldiers, being kept by a countryman of their own, an ex-sergeant in one of the Scottish regiments.

“Ah! Sandy Macgregor,” Malcolm exclaimed as the proprietor of the place approached to take their order. “So you are still in the flesh, man! Right glad am I to see you again.

“I know your face,” Sandy replied; “but I canna just say what your name might be.”

“Malcolm Anderson, of Leslie’s Scotch regiment. It’s fourteen years since I left them now; but I was here again four years later, if you can remember, when I came over to try and find out if aught had been heard of the colonel.”

“Ay, ay,” Sandy said, grasping Malcolm’s outstretched hand warmly. “It all comes back to me now. Right glad am I to see you. And who is the lad ye have brought with you? A Scot by his face and bearing, I will be bound, but young yet for the service if that be what he is thinking of.”

“He is the colonel’s son, Sandy. You will remember I told you I had carried him back to Scotland with me; but I need not tell ye that this is betwixt ourselves, for those who have so badly treated his father might well have a grudge against the son, and all the more that he is the rightful heir to many a broad acre here in France.”

“I give you a hearty welcome, young sir,” Sandy said. “Many a time I have seen your brave father riding at the head of his regiment, and have spoken to him too, for he and his officers would drop in here and crack a cup together in a room I keep upstairs for the quality. Well, well, and to think that you are his son! But what Malcolm said is true, and it were best that none knew who ye are, for they have an unco quick way here of putting inconvenient people out of the way.”

“Have you ever heard aught of my father since?” Ronald asked eagerly.

“Not a word,” Sandy replied. “I have heard it talked over scores of times by men who were in the regiment that was once his, and none doubted that if he were still alive he was lying in the Bastille, or Vincennes, or one of the other cages where they keep those whose presence the king or his favourites find inconvenient. It’s just a stroke of the pen, without question or trial, and they are gone, and even their best friends darena ask a question concerning them. In most cases none know why they have been put away; but there is no doubt why Leslie was seized. Three or four of his fellow officers were in the secret of his marriage, and when he had disappeared these talked loudly about it, and there was sair grief and anger among the Scottish regiment at Leslie’s seizure. But what was to be done? It was just the king’s pleasure, and that is enough in France. Leslie had committed the grave offence of thwarting the wishes of two of the king’s favourites, great nobles, too, with broad lands and grand connections. What were the likings of a Scottish soldier of fortune and a headstrong girl in comparison! In Scotland in the old times a gallant who had carried off a daughter of a Douglas or one of our powerful nobles would have made his wife a widow ere many weeks were over, and it is the same thing here now. It wouldna have been an easy thing for his enemies to kill Leslie with his regiment at his back, and so they got an order from the king, and as surely got rid of him as if they had taken his life.”

“You have never heard whether my mother has married again?” Ronald asked.

“I have never heard her name mentioned. Her father is still at court, but his daughter has never been seen since, or I should have heard of it; but more than that I cannot say.”

“That gives me hopes that my father is still alive,” Ronald said. “Had he been dead they might have forced her into some other marriage.”

“They might so; but she was plainly a lassie who had a will of her own and may have held out.”

“But why did they not kill him instead of putting him in prison if he was in their way?”

“They might, as I said, have done it at once; but once in prison he was beyond their reach. The king may grant a lettre de cachet, as these orders are called, to a favourite; but even in France men are not put to death without some sort of trial, and even Chateaurouge and De Recambours could not ask Louis to have a man murdered in prison to gratify their private spite, especially when that man was a brave Scottish officer whose fate had already excited much discontent among his compatriots in the king’s service. Then again much would depend upon who was the governor of the prison. These men differ like others. Some of them are honourable gentlemen, to whom even Louis himself would not venture to hint that he wanted a prisoner put out of the way; but there are others who, to gratify a powerful nobleman, would think nothing of telling a jailer to forget a fortnight to give food to a prisoner. So you see we cannot judge from this. And now what are you thinking of doing, Malcolm, and why are you over here?”

“In the first place we are over here because young Leslie took after his father and aided a Jacobite, whom George’s men were in search of, to escape, and drew his sword on a worshipful justice of Glasgow and the city watch.”

“He has begun early,” Sandy said, laughing; “and how did he get away?”

“They brought him down a prisoner to London, to interrogate him as to the plot. I had a boat in the Thames and he jumped over and swam for it; so here we are. There are rumours in Scotland that King Louis is helping Prince Charlie, and that an army is soon going to sail for Scotland.”

“It is talked of here, but so far nothing is settled; but as King George is interfering in Louis’s affairs, and is fighting him in Germany, I think it more than likely that King Louis is going to stir up a coil in Scotland to give George something to do at home.”

“Then if there’s nothing to be done here I shall find out the old regiment. There will be many officers in it still who have fought under Leslie, and some of them may know more about him than you do, and will surely be able to tell me what has become of the lad’s mither.”

“That may well be so; but keep a quiet tongue, Malcolm, as to Leslie’s son, save to those on whose discretion you can rely. I tell you, if it were known that he is alive and in France his life would not be worth a week’s purchase. They would not take the trouble to get a lettre de cachet for him as they did for his father; it would be just a pistol bullet or a stab on a dark night or in a lonely place. There would be no question asked about the fate of an unknown Scotch laddie.”

“I will be careful, Sandy, and silent. The first thing is to find out where the old regiment is lying.”

“That I can tell you at once. It is on the frontier with the Duc de Noailles, and they say that there is like to be a great battle with English George and his army.”

“Well, as we have nothing else to do we will set out and find them,”

Malcolm said; “but as time is not pressing we will stop a few days here in Paris and I will show the lad the sights. I suppose you can put us up.”

“That can I. Times are dull at present. After ’15 Paris swarmed with Scotsmen who had fled to save their heads; but of late years but few have come over, and the Scotch regiments have difficulty in keeping up their numbers. Since the last of them marched for the frontier I have been looking after empty benches, and it will be good news for me when I hear that the war is over and they are on their way back.”

For some days Malcolm and Ronald wandered about the narrow streets of Paris. Ronald was somewhat disappointed in the city of which he had heard so much. The streets were ill paved and worse lighted, and were narrow and winding. In the neighbourhood of the Louvre there were signs of wealth and opulence. The rich dresses of the nobles contrasted strongly indeed with the sombre attire of the Glasgow citizens, and the appearance and uniform of the royal guards filled him with admiration; but beyond the fashionable quarter it did not appear to him that Paris possessed many advantages over Glasgow, and the poorer class were squalid and poverty stricken to a far greater degree than anything he had seen in Scotland. But the chief points of attraction to him were the prisons. The Bastille, the Chatelet, and the Temple were points to which he was continually turning; the two former especially, since, if he were in Paris, it was in one of these that his father was most probably lying.

The various plans he had so often thought over, by which, in some way or other, he might communicate with his father and aid his escape, were roughly shattered at the sight of these buildings. He had reckoned on their resembling in some respect the prison in Glasgow, and at the sight of these formidable fortresses with their lofty walls and flanking towers, their moats and vigilant sentries, his hopes fell to zero. It would, he saw at once, be absolutely impossible to open communication with a prisoner of whose whereabouts he was wholly ignorant and of whose very existence he was doubtful. The narrow slits which lighted the cell in which he was confined might look into an inner court, or the cell itself might be below the surface of the soil. The legend of the troubadour who discovered King Richard of England’s place of captivity by singing without the walls had always been present in his mind, but no such plan would be practicable here. He knew no song which his father, and his father only, would recognize; and even did he know such a song, the appearance of anyone loitering in the open space outside the moat round the Bastille singing at intervals at different points would have instantly attracted the attention of the sentries on the walls. Nor, even did he discover that his father was lying a prisoner in one of the cells facing outwards in the fortress, did he see any possibility of compassing his escape. The slits were wide enough only for the passage of a ray of light or the flight of an arrow. No human being could squeeze himself through them, and even if he could do so he would need a long rope to descend into the moat.

One day Ronald talked over his ideas with Malcolm, who declared at once that they were impossible of execution.

“There is scarcely a case on record,” he said, “of an escape from either the Bastille or the Chatelet, and yet there have been scores of prisoners confined in them with friends of great influence and abundant means. If these have been unable, by bribing jailers or by other strategy, to free their friends, how could a stranger, without either connection, influence, or wealth, hope to effect the escape of a captive were he certain that he was within the walls. Do not waste your thought on such fancies, Ronald. If your father is still in prison it is by influence only, and influence exerted upon the king and exceeding that of your father’s enemies, that his release can be obtained.

“Such influence there is no possibility of our exerting. Your father’s comrades and countrymen, his position and services, availed nothing when he was first imprisoned; and in the time which has elapsed the number of those who know him and would venture to risk the king’s displeasure by pleading his cause must have lessened considerably. The only possibility, mind I say possibility, of success lies in your mother.

“So far it is clear that she has been powerless; but we know not under what circumstances she has been placed. She may all this time have been shut up a prisoner in a convent; she may be dead; but it is possible that, if she is free, she may have powerful connections on her mother’s side, who might be induced to take up her cause and to plead with the king for your father’s liberty. She may have been told that your father is dead. She is, no doubt, in ignorance of what has become of you, or whether you are still alive. If she believes you are both dead she would have had no motive for exerting any family influence she may have, and may be living a broken hearted woman, firm only in the resolution to accept no other husband.”

“Yes, that is possible,” Ronald agreed. “At any rate, Malcolm, let us lose no further time, but set out tomorrow for the frontier and try to find out from my father’s old comrades what has become of my mother.”

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