Bonnie Prince Charlie; A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden

CHAPTER V: Dettingen.

After walking two or three miles Malcolm and Ronald came upon the rear of a train of waggons which had set out from Paris an hour earlier. Entering into conversation with one of the drivers they found that the convoy was bound for the frontier with ammunition and supplies for the army.

“This is fortunate,” Malcolm said; “for to tell you the truth, Ronald, I have looked forward to our meeting with a good many difficulties by the way. We have no passes or permits to travel, and should be suspected of being either deserters or thieves. We came down from the north easy enough; but there they are more accustomed to the passage of travellers to or from the coast. Going east our appearance if alone would be sure to incite comment and suspicion. It is hard if among the soldiers with the convoy I do not know someone who has friends in the old regiment. At any rate we can offer to make ourselves useful in case of any of the drivers falling ill or deserting by the way.”

As they walked along towards the head of the long line of waggons Malcolm closely scrutinized the troopers who formed the escort, but most of them were young soldiers, and he therefore went on without accosting them until he reached the head of the column. Here two officers were riding together, a captain and a young lieutenant. Malcolm saluted the former.

“I am an old soldier of the 2d Regiment of Scottish Calvary, and am going with my young friend here, who has relations in the regiment, to join them. Will you permit us, sir, to journey with your convoy? We are ready, if needs be, to make ourselves useful in case any of your drivers are missing, no uncommon thing, as I know, on a long journey.”

The officer asked a few questions about his services, and said: “What have you been doing since you left, as you say, fourteen years ago?”

“I have been in Scotland, sir. I took this lad, who was then an infant, home to my people, having had enough of soldiering, while my brother, his father, remained with the regiment. We do not know whether he is alive or dead, but if the former the lad wants to join as a trumpeter, and when old enough to fight in the ranks.”

“Very well,” the officer said. “You can march along with us, and if any of these fellows desert you shall take their places, and of course draw their pay.”

It was a short time indeed before Malcolm’s services were called into requisition, for the very first night several of the drivers, who had been pressed into the service, managed to elude the vigilance of the guard and slipped away.

The next morning Malcolm, with Ronald as his assistant, took charge of one of the heavy waggons, loaded with ammunition, and drawn by twelve horses.

“This is better than walking after all, Ronald. In the first place it saves the legs, and in the second one is partly out of the dust.”

“But I think we should get on faster walking, Malcolm.”

“Yes, if we had no stoppages. But then, you see, as we have no papers we might be detained for weeks by some pig headed official in a little country town; besides, we are sure to push on as fast as we can, for they will want the ammunition before a battle is fought. And after all a few days won’t make much difference to us; the weather is fine, and the journey will not be unpleasant.”

In fact Ronald enjoyed the next three weeks greatly as the train of waggons made its way across the plains of Champagne, and then on through the valleys of Lorraine and Alsace until it reached Strasbourg. Malcolm had speedily made friends with some of the soldiers of the escort, and of an evening when the day’s work was over he and Ronald sat with them by the fires they made by the roadside, and Malcolm told tales of the campaigns in which he had been engaged, and the soldiers sang songs and chatted over the probabilities of the events of the war. None of them had served before, having been but a few months taken from their homes in various parts of France. But although, doubtless, many had at first regretted bitterly being dragged away to the wars, they were now all reconciled to their lot, and looked forward eagerly to joining their regiment, which was at the front, when the duty of looking after the convoy would be at an end.

Little was known in Paris as to the position of the contending armies beyond the fact that Lord Stair, who commanded the English army, sixteen thousand strong, which had for the last year been lying inactive in Flanders, had marched down with his Hanoverian allies towards the Maine, and that the Duc de Noailles with sixty thousand men was lying beyond the Rhine. But at Strasbourg they learned that the French army had marched north to give battle to Lord Stair, who had at present with him but twenty-eight thousand men, and was waiting to be joined by twelve thousand Hanoverians and Hessians who were on their way.

The convoy continued its journey, pushing forward with all speed, and on the 26th of July joined the army of De Noailles. The French were on the south side of the river, but having arrived on its banks before the English they had possession of the bridges. As soon as the waggons had joined the army, Malcolm obtained from the officer commanding the escort a discharge, saying that he and Ronald had fulfilled their engagement as drivers with the waggons to the front, and were now at liberty to return to France.

“Now we are our own masters again, Ronald,” Malcolm said. “I have taken part in a good many battles, but have never yet had the opportunity of looking on at one comfortably. De Noailles should lose no time in attacking, so as to destroy the English before they receive their reinforcements. As he holds the bridges he can bring on the battle when he likes, and I think that tomorrow or next day the fight will take place.”

It was known in the camp that evening that the English had established their chief magazines at Hanau, and were marching up the river towards Aschaffenburg. In the early morning a portion of the French troops crossed the river at that town, and took up a strong position there.

Ronald and Malcolm climbed a hill looking down upon the river from the south side, and thence commanded the view of the ground across which the English were marching. On the eastern side of the river spurs of the Spessart Mountains came down close to its bank, inclosing a narrow flat between Aschaffenburg and Dettingen. At the latter place the heights approached so closely to the river as to render it difficult for an army to pass between them. While posting a strong force at Aschaffenburg to hold the passage across a stream running into the Maine there, De Noailles marched his main force down the river; these movements were hidden by the nature of the ground from the English, who were advancing unconscious of their danger towards Dettingen.

“De Noailles will have them in a trap,” Malcolm said, for from their position on the hill they could see the whole ground on the further bank, Hanau lying some seven miles beyond Dettingen, which was itself less than seven miles from Aschaffenburg.

“I am afraid so,” Ronald said.

“Afraid!” Malcolm repeated. “Why, you should rejoice, Ronald.”

“I can’t do that,” Ronald replied. “I should like to see the Stuarts instead of the Hanoverians reigning over us; but after all, Malcolm, England and Scotland are one nation.”

“But there are Scotch regiments with the French army, and a brigade of Irish.”

“That may be,” Ronald said. “Scotchmen who have got into political trouble at home may enter the service of France, and may fight heartily against the Germans or the Flemings, or other enemies of France; but I know that I should feel very reluctant to fight against the English army, except, of course, at home for the Stuarts.”

“It will benefit the Stuarts’ cause if the English are defeated here,”

Malcolm said.

“That may be or it may not.,” Ronald replied. “You yourself told me that Louis cared nothing for the Stuarts, and would only aid them in order to cripple the English strength at home. Therefore, if he destroys the English army here he will have less cause to fear England and so less motive for helping the Chevalier.”

“That is true enough,” Malcolm agreed. “You are fast becoming a politician, Ronald. Well, I will look on as a neutral then, because, although the English are certainly more nearly my countrymen than are the French, you must remember that for twelve years I fought under the French flag. However, there can be no doubt what is going to take place. See, the dark mass of the English army are passing through the defile of Dettingen, and the French have begun to cross at Seligenstadt in their rear. See, they are throwing three or four bridges across the river there.”

In utter ignorance of their danger the English marched on along the narrow plain by the river bank towards Aschaffenburg.

“Look at their cavalry scouting ahead of them,” Malcolm said. “There, the French are opening fire!” And as he spoke puffs of musketry rose up from the line of the stream held by the French.

The English cavalry galloped back, but the columns of infantry still advanced until within half a mile of the French position, and were there halted, while some guns from the French lines opened fire. The bridges at Seligenstadt were now completed, and masses of troops could be seen pouring over. King George and the Duke of Cumberland had joined the Earl of Stair just as the army passed through Dettingen, and were riding at the head of the column when the French fire opened. A short time was spent in reconnoitring the position of the enemy in front. The English believed that the entire French army was there opposed to them, and that the advance of the army into Franconia, which was its main objective was therefore barred. After a short consultation it was resolved to fall back at once upon the magazines at Hanau, which, from their ignorance of the near proximity of the French, had been left but weakly guarded. Believing that as they fell back they would be hotly pursued by the French army, the king took the command of the rear as the post of danger, and the columns, facing about, marched towards Dettingen.

But the French had been beforehand with them. De Noailles had sent 23,000 men under his nephew the Duke de Grammont across the river to occupy Dettingen. He himself with his main army remained on the south side, with his artillery placed so as to fire across the river upon the flank of the English as they approached Dettingen; while he could march up and cross at Aschaffenburg should the English, after being beaten back at Dettingen, try to retreat up the river.

De Grammont’s position was a very strong one behind a swamp and a deep ravine hollowed out by a stream from the hill. There seemed no possibility of escape for the English army, who were as yet absolutely in ignorance of the position of the French. As the head of the column approached Dettingen, Grammont’s artillery opened upon them in front, while that of De Noailles smote them in flank. As soon as the king found that his retreat was cut off he galloped from the rear of the column to its head. His horse, alarmed by the fire of the artillery and whistling of balls, ran away with him, and was with difficulty stopped just as he reached the head of the column. He at once dismounted and announced his intention of leading his troops on foot.

There was a hasty council held between him, Lord Stair, and the Duke of Cumberland, and it was agreed that the only escape from entire destruction was by fighting their way through the force now in front of them. This would indeed have been impossible had De Grammont held his position; but when that officer saw the English troops halt he believed he had only the advanced guard in front of him, and resolving to overwhelm these before their main body arrived, he abandoned his strong position, led the troops across the swamp, and charged the English in front.

De Noailles, from the opposite bank, seeing the error his nephew had made, hurried his troops towards the bridges in order to cross the river and render him assistance; but it was too late.

The English infantry, headed by the king in person, hurled themselves upon the troops of De Grammont.

Every man felt that the only hope of escape from this trap into which they had fallen lay in cutting their way through the enemy, and so furiously did they fight that De Grammont’s troops were utterly overthrown, and were soon in full flight towards the bridges in the rear, hotly pursued by the English. Before they could reach the bridges they left behind them on the field six thousand killed and wounded. King George, satisfied with his success, and knowing that the French army was still greatly superior to his own, wisely determined to get out of his dangerous position as soon as possible, and pushed on that night to Hanau.

Although Malcolm and Ronald were too far off to witness the incidents of the battle, they made out the tide of war rolling away from them, and saw the black masses of troops pressing on through Dettingen in spite of the French artillery which thundered from the opposite bank of the river.

“They have won!” Ronald said, throwing up his cap. “Hurrah, Malcolm! Where is the utter destruction of the English now? See, the plain beyond Dettingen is covered by a confused mass of flying men. The English have broken out of the trap, and instead of being crushed have won a great victory.”

“It looks like it certainly,” Malcolm said. “I would not have believed it if I had not seen it; their destruction seemed certain. And now let us go round to the camp again.”

On their way down Malcolm said:

“I think, on the whole, Ronald, that you are perhaps right, and the French defeat will do good rather than harm to the Stuart cause. Had they conquered, Louis would have been too intent on pushing forward his own schemes to care much for the Stuarts. He has no real interest in them, and only uses them as cat’s paws to injure England. If he had beaten the English and Hanoverians he would not have needed their aid. As it is, it seems likely enough that he will try to create a diversion, and keep the English busy at home by aiding the Stuarts with men and money to make a landing in Scotland.”

“In that case, Malcolm, we need not grieve over the defeat today. You know my sympathies are with the brave Empress of Austria rather than with her enemies, and this defeat should go far towards seating her securely on the throne. Now, what will you do, Malcolm? Shall we try and find my father’s friends at once?”

“Nor for another few days,” Malcolm said. “Just after a defeat men are not in the best mood to discuss bygone matters. Let us wait and see what is done next.”

The next morning a portion of the French army which had not been engaged crossed the river and collected the French and English wounded, for the latter had also been left behind. They were treated by the French with the same care and kindness that was bestowed upon their own wounded. De Noailles was about to advance against the English at Hanau, when he received the news that the French army in Bavaria had been beaten back by Prince Charles, and had crossed the Rhine into Alsace. As he would now be exposed to the whole brunt of the attack of the allies he decided to retreat at once.

The next day the retreat recommenced. Many of the drivers had fled at the first news of the defeat, and Malcolm without question assumed the post of driver of one of the abandoned teams. For another week the army retired, and then crossing the Rhine near Worms were safe from pursuit.

“Now, Ronald, I will look up the old regiment, and we will see what is to be done.”

The 2d Scotch Dragoons were posted in a little village a mile distant from the main camp which had now been formed. Malcolm did nor make any formal transfer of the waggon to the authorities, thinking it by no means improbable that they would insist upon his continuing his self adopted avocation as driver; but after seeing to the horses, which were picketed with a long line of transport animals, he and Ronald walked quietly away without any ceremony of adieu.

“We must not come back again here,” he said, “for some of the teamsters would recognize me as having been driving lately, and I should have hard work to prove that I was not a deserter; we must take to the old regiment now as long as we are here.”

On reaching the village they found the street full of troopers, who were busy engaged in cleaning their arms, grooming their horses, and removing all signs of weather and battle. Ronald felt a thrill of pleasure at hearing his native language spoken. He had now so far improved the knowledge of French as to be able to converse without difficulty, for Malcolm had from his childhood tried to keep up his French, and had lately always spoken in that language to him, unless it was necessary to speak in English in order to make him understand.

These occasions had become more and more rare, and two months of constant conversation with Malcolm and others had enabled Ronald by this time to speak with some fluency in the French tongue. None of the soldiers paid any attention to the newcomers, whose dress differed in no way from that of Frenchmen, as after the shipwreck they had, of course, been obliged to rig themselves out afresh. Malcolm stopped before an old sergeant who was diligently polishing his sword hilt.

“And how fares it with you all these years, Angus Graeme?”

The sergeant almost dropped his sword in his surprise at being so addressed in his own tongue by one whose appearance betokened him a Frenchman.

“You don’t know me, Angus,” Malcolm went on with a smile; “and yet you ought to, for if it hadn’t been for me the sword of the German hussar who carved that ugly scar across your cheek would have followed it up by putting an end to your soldiering altogether.”

“Heart alive, but it’s Malcolm Anderson! Eh, man, but I am glad to see you! I thought you were dead years ago, for I have heard nae mair of you since the day when you disappeared from among us like a spook, the same day that puir Colonel Leslie was hauled off to the Bastille. A sair day was that for us a’! And where ha’ ye been all the time?”

“Back at home, Angus, at least in body, for my heart’s been with the old regiment. And who, think you, is this? But you must keep a close mouth, man, for it must nor be talked of. This is Leslie’s son. By his father’s last order I took him off to Scotland with me to be out of reach of his foes, and now I have brought him back again to try if between us we can gain any news of his father.”

“You don’t say so, Malcolm! I never as much heard that the colonel had a son, though there was some talk in the regiment that he had married a great lady, and that it was for that that he had been hid away in prison.

And this is Leslie’s boy! Only to think, now! Well, young sir, there isn’t a man in the regiment but wad do his best for your father’s son, for those who have joined us since, and in truth that’s the great part of us, have heard many a tale of Colonel Leslie, though they may not have served under him, and not a tale but was to his honour, for a braver officer nor a kinder one never stepped the earth. But come inside, Malcolm. I have got a room to myself and a stoup of good wine; let’s talk over things fair and gentle, and when I know what it is that you want you may be sure that I will do all I can, for the sake baith of the colonel and of you, auld comrade.”

The trio were soon seated in the cottage, and Malcolm then gave a short sketch of all that had taken place since he had left the regiment.

“Well, well!” the sergeant said when he had ended; “and so the lad, young as he is, has already drawn his sword for the Stuarts, and takes after his father in loyalty as well as in looks, for now that I know who he is I can see his father’s face in his plain enough; and now for your plans, Malcolm.”

“Our plans must be left to chance, Angus. We came hither to see whether any of the colonel’s friends are still in the regiment, and to learn from them whether they have any news whatever of him; and secondly, whether they can tell us aught of his mother.”

“Ay, there are six or eight officers still in the regiment who served with him. Hume is our colonel now; you will remember him, Malcolm, well, for he was captain of our troop; and Major Macpherson was a captain too.

Then there are Oliphant, and Munroe, and Campbell, and Graham, all of whom were young lieutenants in your time, and are now old captains of troops.”

“I will see the colonel and Macpherson,” Malcolm said; “if they do not know, the younger men are not likely to. Will you go along with us, Angus, and introduce me, though Hume is like enough to remember me, seeing that I was so much with Leslie?”

“They will be dining in half an hour,” the sergeant said; “we’ll go after they have done the meal. It’s always a good time to talk with men when they are full, and the colonel will have no business to disturb him then.

Our own dinner will be ready directly; I can smell a goose that I picked up, as it might be by accident, at the place where we halted last night.

There are four or five of us old soldiers who always mess together when we are not on duty with our troops, and if I mistake not, you will know every one of them, and right glad they will be to see you; but of course I shall say no word as to who the lad is, save that he is a friend of yours.”

A few minutes later four other sergeants dropped in, and there was a joyful greeting between them and Malcolm as soon as they recognized his identity. The meal was a jovial one, as old jokes and old reminiscences were recalled. After an hour’s sitting Angus said:

“Pass round the wine, lads, till we come back again. I am taking Anderson to the colonel, who was captain of his troop. We are not likely to be long, and when we come back we will make a night of it in honour of old times, or I am mistaken.”

On leaving the cottage they waited for a while until they saw the colonel and major rise from beside the fire round which, with the other officers, they had been taking their meal, and walk to the cottage which they shared between them. Angus went up and saluted.

“What is it, Graeme?” the colonel asked.

“There’s one here who would fain have a talk with you. It is Malcolm Anderson, whom you may remember as puir Colonel Leslie’s servant, and as being in your own troop, and he has brought one with him concerning whom he will speak to you himself.”

“Of course I remember Anderson,” the colonel said. “He was devoted to Leslie. Bring him in at once. What can have brought him out here again after so many years? Been getting into some trouble at home, I suppose? He was always in some scrape or other when he was in the regiment, for, though he was a good soldier, he was as wild and reckless a blade as any in the regiment. You remember him, Macpherson?”

“Yes, I remember him well,” the major said. “The colonel was very fond of him, and regarded him almost as a brother.”

A minute later Angus ushered Malcolm and Ronald into the presence of the two officers, who had now taken seats in the room which served as kitchen and sitting room to the cottage, which was much the largest in the village.

“Well, Anderson, I am glad to see you again,” Colonel Hume said, rising and holding out his hand. “We have often spoken of you since the day you disappeared, saying that you were going on a mission for the colonel, and have wondered what the mission was, and how it was that we never heard of you again.”

“I came over to Paris four years later, colonel, but the regiment was away in Flanders, and as I found out from others what I had come to learn, there was no use in my following you. As to the colonel’s mission, it was this;” and he put his hand on Ronald’s shoulder.

“What do you mean, Anderson?” the colonel asked in surprise.

“This is Colonel Leslie’s son, sir. He bade me fetch him straight away from the folk with whom he was living and take him off to Scotland so as to be out of reach of his foes, who would doubtless have made even shorter work with him than they did with the colonel.”

“Good heavens!” the colonel exclaimed; “this is news indeed. So poor Leslie left a child and this is he! My lad,” he said, taking Ronald’s hand, “believe me that anything that I can do for you, whatever it be, shall be done, for the sake of your dear father, whom I loved as an elder brother.”

“And I too,” the major said. “There was not one of us but would have fought to the death for Leslie. And now sit down, my lad, while Anderson tells us your story.”

Malcolm began at the account of the charge which Colonel Leslie had committed to him, and the manner in which he had fulfilled it. He told them how he had placed the child in the care of his brother, he himself having no fixed home of his own, and how the lad had received a solid education, while he had seen to his learning the use of his sword, so that he might be able to follow his father’s career. He then told them the episode of the Jacobite agent, and the escape which had been effected in the Thames.

“You have done well, Anderson,” the colonel said when he had concluded;

“and if ever Leslie should come to see his son he will have cause to thank you, indeed, for the way in which you have carried out the charge he committed to you, and he may well be pleased at seeing him grown up such a manly young fellow. As to Leslie himself, we know not whether he be alive or dead. Every interest was made at the time to assuage his majesty’s hostility, but the influence of the Marquis of Recambours was too strong, and the king at last peremptorily forbade Leslie’s name being mentioned before him. You see, although the girl’s father was, of course, at liberty to bestow her hand on whomsoever he pleased, he had, with the toadyism of a courtier, asked the king’s approval of the match with Chateaurouge, which, as a matter of course, he received. His majesty, therefore, chose to consider it as a personal offence against himself that this Scottish soldier of fortune should carry off one of the richest heiresses of France, whose hand he had himself granted to one of his peers. At the same rime I cannot but think that Leslie still lives, for had he been dead we should assuredly have heard of the marriage of his widow with some one else. The duke has, of course, long since married, and report says that the pair are ill-matched; but another husband would speedily have been found for the widow.”

“Since the duke has married,” Ronald said, “he should no longer be so bitter against my father, and perhaps after so long an imprisonment the king might be moved to grant his release.”

“As the duke’s marriage is an unhappy one, I fear that you cannot count upon his hostility to your father being in any way lessened, as he would all the more regret the interference with his former plans.”

“Have you any idea where my mother is, sir?”

“None,” the colonel said. “But that I might find out for you. I will give you a letter to the Count de Noyes, who is on intimate terms with the Archbishop of Paris, who would, no doubt, be able to tell him in which convent the lady is residing. You must not be too sanguine, my poor boy, of seeing her, for it is possible that she has already taken the veil.

Indeed, if your father has died, and she has still refused to accept any suitor whom the marquis may have found for her, you may be sure that she has been compelled to take the veil, as her estates would then revert to the nearest kinsman. This may, for aught we know, have happened years ago, without a word of it being bruited abroad, and the affair only known to those most concerned. However, we must look at the best side. We shall be able, doubtless, to learn through the archbishop whether she is still merely detained in the convent or has taken the veil, and you can then judge accordingly whether your father is likely to be alive or dead. But as to your obtaining an interview with your mother, I regard it as impossible in the one case as the other.

“At any rate it is of the highest importance that it should not be known that you are in France. If it is proved that your father is dead and your mother is secluded for life, we must then introduce you to her family, and try and get them to bring all their influence to bear to have you acknowledged openly as the legitimate heir of the marquis, and to obtain for you the succession to at least a portion of his estates — say to that of those which she brought him as her dowry. In this you may be sure that I and every Scottish gentleman in the army will give you all the aid and influence we can bring to bear.”

Ronald warmly thanked Colonel Hume for his kindness, and the next day, having received the letter to the Count de Noyes, set out for Paris with Malcolm. On his arrival there he lost no time in calling upon the count, and presenting his letter of introduction.

The count read it through twice without speaking.

“My friend Colonel Hume,” he said at last, “tells me that you are the son, born in lawful wedlock, of Colonel Leslie and Amelie de Recambours.

I am aware of the circumstances of the case, being distantly related to the lady’s family, and will do that which Colonel Hume asks me, namely, discover the convent in which she is living. But I warn you, young man, that your position here is a dangerous one, and that were it known that Colonel Leslie’s son is alive and in France, I consider your life would not be worth a day’s purchase. When powerful people are interested in the removal of anyone not favoured with powerful protection the matter is easily arranged. There are hundreds of knives in Paris whose use can be purchased for a few crowns, of if seclusion be deemed better than removal, a king’s favourite can always obtain a lettre-de-cachet, and a man may linger a lifetime in prison without a soul outside the walls knowing of his existence there.

“You are an obstacle to the plans of a great noble, and that is in France a fatal offence. Your wisest course, young man, would be to efface yourself, to get your friend Colonel Hume to obtain for you a commission in his regiment, and to forget for ever that you are the son of Colonel Leslie and Amelie de Recambours. However, in that you will doubtless choose for yourself; but believe me my advice is good. At any rate I will do what my friend Colonel Hume asks me, and will obtain for you the name of the convent where your mother is living. I do not see that you will be any the better off when you have it, for assuredly you will nor be able to obtain permission to see her. However, that again is your affair. If you will give me the address where you are staying in Paris I will write to you as soon as I obtain the information. Do not be impatient, the archbishop himself may be in ignorance on the point; but I doubt not, that to oblige me, he will obtain the information from the right quarter.

A week later, Ronald, on returning one day to Le Soldat Ecossais, found a note awaiting him. It contained only the words:

“She has not taken the veil; she is at the convent of Our Lady at Tours.”

The next morning Ronald and Malcolm set out on their journey to Tours.

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