Bonnie Prince Charlie; A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden

CHAPTER VIII: Hidden Foes.

“I am heartily glad to be out of Paris,” Ronald said to Malcolm on their first halt after leaving the capital. “It is not pleasant to regard every man one meets after dark as a possible enemy, and although I escaped scot free from the gang who attacked us the other night, one cannot always expect such good fortune as that. It was a constant weight on one’s mind, and I feel like a new man now that we are beyond the city walls.”

“Nevertheless, Ronald, we must not omit any precautions. Your enemy has a long purse, and can reach right across France. That last affair is proof of his bitterness against you, and it would be rash indeed were we to act as if, having made one attempt and failed, he would abandon his plans altogether. He is clearly a man who nourishes a grudge for years, and his first failure is only likely to add to his vindictive feeling. I do not say that your danger is as great as it was in Paris, but that is simply because the opportunities of attacking you are fewer. I should advise you to be as careful as before, and to be on your guard against ambushes and surprises.”

“Well, it may be so, Malcolm, and of course I will be careful; but till I have proof to the contrary I shall prefer to think that the marquis will trust to my being knocked on the head during the war, and will make no further move against me until the regiment returns to Paris.”

“Think what you like, lad,” Malcolm said, “so that you are cautious and guarded. I shall sleep with one eye open, I can tell you, till we are fairly beyond the frontier.”

Two days later the regiment encamped outside the town of St. Quentin.

They were usually quartered on the inhabitants; but the town was already filled with troops, and as the weather was fine Colonel Hume ordered his men to bivouac a short distance outside the walls. Ronald was seeing that his troop got their breakfast next morning, when a sergeant came up with two men with a horse.

“This is Monsieur Leslie,” he said to them. “These men were asking for you, sir.”

“What do you want with me?” Ronald said surprised.

“We heard, sir,” one of the peasants said, “that you wanted to buy a horse. We have a fine animal here, and cheap.”

“But I do not want to buy one,” Ronald replied. “I am very well supplied with horses. What made you think I wanted one?”

“We asked one of the officers, sir, if anyone in the regiment would be likely to buy, and he said that Monsieur Leslie wanted one, he believed.”

“No,” Ronald said decidedly. “Whoever told you was mistaken. I have my full complement, and though your horse looks a nice animal I could not take him if you offered him to me for nothing. I don’t think you will get anyone to buy him in the regiment. I believe that every officer has his full complement of chargers.”

In the evening Ronald happened to mention to Malcolm the offer he had had in the morning.

“It was a nice looking beast,” he said, “and I had half a mind to ask them what they would take to exchange him with my roan, but I did not want to dip further into my purse.”

“I wish I had been beside you at the time,” Malcolm said earnestly;

“those two fellows wouldn’t have gone out of the camp so easily.”

“Why, what do you mean, Malcolm?”

“Mean!” Malcolm repeated in a vexed tone. “This is what comes of your being watchful and cautious, Ronald. Why, the matter is clear enough. The marquis has set men on your track, but of course they could do nothing until some of them knew you by sight, so two of them are sent into camp with this cock and bull story about a horse, and they come and have a good look at you and go quietly off. It is too provoking. Had I been there I would have given them in charge of a file of men at once. Then we would have asked every officer in the regiment if he had sent them to you, and when we found, as we certainly should have found, that none of them had done so, we should have marched the men off to Colonel Hume, and I am sure, when he heard the circumstances of the case, they would have been lashed up and flogged till he had got the truth of the matter out of them. My great hope has been that they could not very well attempt your life, because none of the men who might be engaged on the job would be likely to know your face, and they would therefore have no means of singling you out for attack; and now two of the ruffians will be able to follow you and watch their opportunity.”

“Oh, nonsense, Malcolm, you are too suspicious altogether! I have no doubt the affair was just as they stated it to be. What was more natural?”

“Well, Ronald, you will meet all the other officers at supper in half an hour. Just ask if any of them sent two men wanting to sell a horse to you this morning; if any of them say that they did so, I will acknowledge I am wrong.

Accordingly Ronald, at supper, put the question, but none of the officers admitted they knew anything about the matter.

“You have two very good horses, Leslie; why should anyone suppose that you wanted another?” the colonel asked.

“I don’t know,” Ronald said. “I only know that two men did come up with a horse to me this morning, and said that one of the officers had told them that I wanted to buy one.”

“It must have been one of the men,” the colonel said carelessly, “though I don’t know why anyone should suppose that you wanted another charger.

Still, someone, knowing that you are the last joined officer, might think you had need for a second horse.”

The subject dropped, and Malcolm shook his head ominously when Ronald acknowledged to him that his suspicions were so far right that none of the officers had sent the men to him. The next day, as the regiment was passing through a thick wood, and Ronald was riding with Captain Campbell behind his troop, which happened to be in the rear in the regiment, two shots were fired from among the trees. The first struck Ronald’s horse in the neck, causing him to swerve sharply round, a movement which saved his rider’s life, for the second shot, which was fired almost instantly after the first, grazed his body and passed between him and Captain Campbell.

“Are you hit, Leslie?” the latter exclaimed, for the sudden movement of his horse had almost unseated Ronald.

“Nothing serious, I think. The bullet has cut my coat and grazed my skin, I think, but nothing more.”

The captain shouted orders to his men, and with a score of troopers dashed into the wood. The trees grew thickly and there was a dense undergrowth, and they had difficulty in making their way through them.

For half an hour they continued their search without success, and then rejoined the regiment on its march.

“This is a curious affair,” Colonel Hume said when Captain Campbell reported, at the next halt, that an attempt at assassination had taken place.

“It looks like a premeditated attempt upon one or other of you. You haven’t been getting into any scrape, have you?” he asked with a smile;

“kissing some peasant’s wife or offering to run away with his daughter? But seriously this is a strange affair. Why should two men lie in wait for the regiment and fire at two of its officers? The men have been behaving well, as far as I have heard, on the line of march, and nothing has occurred which could explain such an outrage as this.”

“It may be fancy on my part, colonel,” Ronald said, “but I cannot help thinking that it is a sequence of that affair I told you about in Paris, just before we started. The first shot struck my horse and the second would certainly have killed me had it not been for the horse’s sudden swerve, therefore it looks as if the shots were aimed at me. I have some reason, too, for supposing that I have been followed. If you remember my question last night at supper about the men who wanted to sell me a horse. Malcolm Anderson is convinced that the whole thing was only a ruse to enable them to become acquainted with my face. They wanted to be able to recognize me, and so got up this story in order to have me pointed out to them, and to have a talk with me. None of the officers did send them to me, as they said, and they could hardly have hit upon a better excuse for speaking to me.”

“It certainly looks like it,” Colonel Hume said gravely. “I would give a good deal if we had caught those two men in the wood. If we had I would have given them the choice of being hung at once or telling me what was their motive in firing at you and who paid them to do it. This is monstrous. If we could get but a shadow of proof against your enemies I would lay a formal complaint before the king. Marquis or no marquis, I am not going to have my officers assassinated with impunity. However, till we have something definite to go upon, we can do nothing, and until then, Leslie, you had best keep your suspicion to yourself. It were best to say nothing of what you think; in this country it is dangerous even to whisper against a king’s favourite. Let it be supposed that this attack in the woods was only the work of some malicious scoundrels who must have fired out of pure hatred of the king’s troops.”

Captain Campbell and Ronald quite agreed with the view taken by the colonel, and answered all questions as to the affair, that they had not the least idea who were the men who fired on them, and that no one obtained as much as a glimpse of them.

With most of the officers of the regiment, indeed with all except one, Ronald was on excellent terms. The exception was a lieutenant named Crawford; he was first on the list of his company, and had, indeed, been twice passed over in consequence of his quarrelsome and domineering disposition. He was a man of seven or eight and twenty; he stood about the same height as Ronald and was of much the same figure, indeed the general resemblance between them had often been remarked.

His dislike to Ronald had arisen from the fact that previous to the latter joining the regiment Crawford had been considered the best swordsman among the officers, and Ronald’s superiority, which had been proved over and over again in the fencing room, had annoyed him greatly.

Knowing that he would have no chance whatever with Ronald in a duel, he had carefully abstained from open war, showing his dislike only by sneering remarks and sarcastic comments which frequently tried Ronald’s patience to the utmost, and more than once called down a sharp rebuke from Colonel Hume or one or other of the majors. He did not lose the opportunity afforded by the shots fired in the wood, and was continually suggesting all sorts of motives which might have inspired the would be assassins.

Ronald, who was the reverse of quarrelsome by disposition, laughed good temperedly at the various suggestions; but one or two of the senior officers remonstrated sharply with Crawford as to the extent to which he carried his gibes.

“You are presuming too much on Leslie’s good nature, Crawford,” Captain Campbell said one day. “If he were not one of the best tempered young fellows going he would resent your constant attacks upon him; and you know well that, good swordsman as you are, you would have no chances whatever if he did so.”

“I am quite capable of managing my own affairs,” Crawford said sullenly,

“and I do not want any advice from you or any other man.”

“I am speaking to you as the captain of Leslie’s troop,” Captain Campbell said sharply, “and I do not mean to quarrel with you. You have had more quarrels than enough in the regiment already, and you know Colonel Hume said on the last occasion that your next quarrel should be your last in the regiment. I tell you frankly, that if you continue your course of annoyance to young Leslie I shall report the matter to the colonel. I have noticed that you have the good sense to abstain from your remarks when he is present.”

Three days later the regiment joined the army before Namur.

That evening, having drunk more deeply than usual, Lieutenant Crawford, after the colonel had retired from the circle round the fire and to his tent, recommenced his provocation to Ronald, and pushed matters so far that the latter felt that he could no longer treat it as a jest.

“Mr. Crawford,” he said, “I warn you that you are pushing your remarks too far. On many previous occasions you have chosen to make observations which I could, if I had chosen, have resented as insulting. I did not choose, for I hate brawling, and consider that for me, who have but lately joined the regiment, to be engaged in a quarrel with an officer senior to myself would be in the highest degree unbecoming; but I am sure that my fellow officers will bear me out in saying that I have shown fully as much patience as is becoming. I, therefore, have to tell you that I will no longer be your butt, and that I shall treat any further remark of the nature of those you have just made as a deliberate insult, and shall take measures accordingly.”

A murmur of approval rose among the officers sitting round, and those sitting near Crawford endeavoured to quiet him. The wine which he had taken had, however, excited his quarrelsome instinct too far for either counsel or prudence to prevail.

“I shall say what I choose,” he said, rising to his feet. “I am not going to be dictated to by anyone, much less a boy who has just joined the regiment, and who calls himself Leslie, though no one knows whether he has any right to the name.”

“Very well, sir,” Leslie said in a quiet tone, which was, however, heard distinctly throughout the circle, for at this last outburst on the part of Crawford a dead silence had fallen on the circle, for only one termination could follow such an insult. “Captain Campbell will, I hope, act for me?”

“Certainly,” Captain Campbell said in a loud voice; “and will call upon any friend Lieutenant Crawford may name and make arrangements to settle this matter in the morning.”

“Macleod, will you act for me?” Crawford said to a lieutenant sitting next to him.

“I will act,” the young officer said coldly, “as your second in the matter; but all here will understand that I do solely because it is necessary that some one should do so, and that I disapprove absolutely and wholly of your conduct.”

“Well, make what arrangements you like,” Crawford said with an oath, and rising he left the circle and walked away.

When he had left there was an immediate discussion. Several of the officers were of opinion that the duel should not be allowed to proceed, but that Crawford’s conduct should be reported to the colonel.

“I am entirely in your hands, gentlemen,” Ronald said. “I have no desire whatever to fight. This affair has been forced upon me, and I have no alternative but to take it up. I am not boasting when I say that I am a far better swordsman than he, and I have no need to shrink from meeting him; but I have certainly no desire whatever to take his life. He has drunk more than he ought to do, and if this matter can be arranged, and he can be persuaded in the morning to express his regret for what he has said, I shall be very glad to accept his apology. If it can be settled in this way without either fighting or reporting his conduct to the colonel, which would probably result in his having to leave the regiment, I should be truly glad — What is that?” he broke off, as a loud cry rang through the air.

The whole party sprang to their feet, and snatching up their swords ran in the direction from which the cry had come. The tents were at some little distance, and just as they reached them they saw a man lying on the ground.

“Good heavens, it is Crawford!” Captain Campbell said, stooping over him.

“See, he has been stabbed in the back. It is all over with him. Who can have done it?”

He questioned several of the soldiers, who had now gathered round, attracted like the officers by the cry. None of them had seen the act or had noticed anyone running away; but in so large a camp there were so many people about that an assassin could well have walked quietly away without attracting any attention.

The colonel was speedily on the spot, and instituted a rigid inquiry, but entirely without success. The attack had evidently been sudden and entirely unsuspected, for Crawford had not drawn his sword.

“It is singular,” he said, as with the officers he walked slowly back to the fire. “Crawford was not a popular man, but I cannot guess at any reason for this murder. Strange that this should be the second attack made on my officers since we left Paris.”

Captain Campbell now related what had taken place after he had left the circle.

“The matter should have been reported to me at once,” he said; “although, as it has turned out, it would have made no difference. Perhaps, after all, it is best as it is, for a duel between two officers of the regiment would have done us no good, and the man was no credit to the regiment.

But it is a very serious matter that we should be dogged by assassins.

Leslie, come up with me to my tent. I am not going to blame you, lad,” he said when they were together, “for you could not have acted otherwise than you have done. Indeed, I have myself noticed several times that Crawford’s bearing towards you was the reverse of courteous. Have you any idea as to how he came by his death?”

“I, sir!” Ronald said in surprise. “No, I know no more than the others.”

“It strikes me, Leslie, that this is only the sequel of that attack in the wood, and that your enemies have unwittingly done you a service.

Crawford was very much your height and build, and might easily have been mistaken for you in the dark. I fancy that blow was meant for you.”

“It is possible, sir,” Ronald said after a pause. “I had not thought of it; but the likeness between him and myself has been frequently noticed.

It is quite possible that that blow was meant for me.”

“I have very little doubt of it, my lad. If any of these men were hanging about and saw you as they believed coming away from the circle alone, they may well have taken the opportunity. Let it be a lesson to you to be careful henceforth. It is unlikely that the attempt will be repeated at present. The men who did it will think that they have earned their money, and by this time are probably on the way to Paris to carry the news and claim their reward. So that, for a time at least, it is not probable that there will be any repetition of the attempt. After that you will have to be on your guard night and day.

“I wish to heaven we could obtain some clue that would enable me to take steps in the matter; but at present we have nothing but our suspicions, and I cannot go to the king and say three attempts have been made on the life of one of my officers, and that I suspect his grandfather, the Marquis de Recambours, has been the author of them.”

When Malcolm heard the events of the evening his opinion was exactly the same as that of the colonel, and he expressed himself as convinced that Crawford had fallen by a blow intended for Ronald. He agreed that for a while there was no fear of a renewal of the attempt.

“The fellows will take the news straight to Paris that you have been put out of the way, and some time will elapse before the employers know that a mistake has been made. Then, as likely as not, they will decide to wait until the campaign is over.”

The camp before Namur was a large and brilliant one. The king and dauphin had already arrived with the army. All the household troops were there, and a large contingent of the nobles of the court. The English army was known to be approaching, and was expected to fight a battle to relieve Namur, which the French were besieging vigorously. The French confidently hoped that in the approaching battle they would wipe our the reverse which had befallen them at Dettingen.

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