Won By the Sword Part 19

"It cannot be helped now," Hector went on, "but there will be no living in Paris or even in France after this!"

Mazarin had not retired to bed when they reached his hotel.

"What now, monsieur?" he asked.

"We have had our second battle, your eminence, and it has been a serious one. We were attacked by five-and-twenty ruffians; we slew some ten of them. Then their leader, who had been keeping in the rear shouting to them, seeing that his men were not likely to get the best of us, pushed through them and himself attacked me. I wounded him somewhat seriously, at least the thrust was just below the shoulder; and when I tell you that it was Beaufort himself you will see that the matter is serious indeed."

"It could not be worse," the cardinal said gravely; "you will have the whole of the adherents of the house of Vendome banded against you, and even your bravery could not long triumph over such odds. France is no longer a place for you. Neither the queen's protection nor mine would avail you aught."

He took two or three turns up the room.

"In the first place, Monsieur Campbell, I will buy your fief back from you; there are plenty who would gladly purchase it, or I can bestow it, as it was bestowed upon you, upon someone who has served the crown well. I will send the price to the banker who already holds money of yours in his keeping. I should advise you to mount tonight and ride for the seacoast. Tomorrow would be too late."

He opened a cabinet.

"Here are a thousand crowns for your present expenses. Which road will you take? I should advise you not to go to Calais; that is the line on which, as soon as it is known that you have gone, they will pursue you, and even did they not overtake you on the way they might reach Calais before you could obtain a ship for England, for at present there is but little trade between the countries, and that not openly."

"I will make for Nantes, your eminence; there I can be joined by friends from my chateau."

A slight smile pa.s.sed over the cardinal's face.

"'Tis no time for jesting," he said; "but in truth I had intended to find a rich heiress for you. But when I heard that two ladies were staying at the castle I laid the project aside; and 'tis as well that I did so, for, were you married to a princess, your life would not be safe in France. Farewell, Monsieur Campbell, I have not so many friends that I can afford to lose so true and stout a one, especially one upon whom misfortunes have come through his good services to myself. I will send a messenger to the governor of Nantes with orders that he shall in every way forward your wishes as to your departure, as it is with my consent and approval that you are sailing for England. Your devotion has brought you into the gravest peril, and now it forces you to relinquish your profession, in which you have so greatly distinguished yourself. Truly, my friendship for you is genuine, and it cuts me to the heart that, although I could uphold you against the most powerful n.o.bles in open enmity, I can do naught to save you from a.s.sa.s.sination. I trust some day that I may see you again, but, should it not be so, remember that I shall always feel myself your debtor; and should you have friends for whom you may ask my protection be sure that I will for your sake do all in my power for them."

There was no doubting the real emotion with which Mazarin spoke.

"There is one thing that I forgot," the latter said; "here is a pa.s.s for you to leave the gates at once. You had better go out by the north, so that they may think that you have ridden to Calais, and then take a wide detour and ride for Nantes."

Hector returned to the hotel.

"We must mount at once," he said to the troopers; "my enemies have failed twice, but they might not fail the third time, and by tomorrow morning it is certain that the hotel will be watched. I have a pa.s.s to issue out through the gate at once."

While he had been away the troopers had bandaged each other's wounds, and had packed their valises, for they thought it probable after what had happened that their master would be obliged to fly.

As the horses were being saddled and brought out Hector saw the innkeeper and paid him his bill.

"Monsieur," he said, "I am going away on business of the cardinal's, and he desires that none shall know that I have left; therefore I pray you keep the matter secret as long as you can. It may be reasonably supposed that after the fray in which we have just been engaged, we might well keep our beds for a day or two."

Going out in the courtyard, he gave a couple of crowns to the hostler.

"You are like to be asked tomorrow if we are still here," he said. "Give such answers as to lead them to believe that our horses are still in the stalls."

They mounted and rode rapidly through the streets to the northern gate, which was immediately, upon Hector's handing the guard the cardinal's pa.s.s, opened to them. To the surprise of the men, he turned off after riding a few miles.

"Are you not going to make for Calais, master?"

"No, I am bound for Poitou. We will cross the Seine by the bridge of boats at Nantes, ride down through Dreux and Le Mans. There we will separate. I shall follow the Sarthe, strike the Loire at Angers, and then go on to Nantes. You will cross the Loire at Tours, and then make for la Villar. I shall take you, Macpherson and Hunter, with me. Paolo will ride with the other two, and will be the bearer of letters from me."

Daylight was breaking when they crossed the bridge of boats. Hector halted a mile from the river, keeping Paolo with him, and telling the others to pa.s.s at intervals of a quarter of an hour apart.

"You will go first, Macpherson. You will ride south for an hour, and then wait till the rest of us join you. It is like enough that as soon as they find out that we have left they will send men off in all directions to find out which way we followed, though doubtless the chief pursuit will be directed towards Calais. I am afraid that it will not be very long before they find we have left the hotel, for the landlord, however well he may wish us, will not dare mislead any person of consequence that Beaufort may send."

They had, however, a much longer start than Hector expected, for early the next morning ten of the cardinal's guards appeared at the hotel. The officer in command of them told the innkeeper that, in consequence of the tumult before his doors, in which, as he heard, some of those lodging there had been concerned, he had orders to post his men round the house, and to allow no one to enter or leave under any pretence whatever until the cardinal himself had examined into the affair. These orders were delivered in a loud voice before the servants of the inn, but the officer privately a.s.sured the innkeeper afterwards that he would be well paid for his loss of custom, and that it was probable that the guard would be removed in a day or two. Thus Beaufort's emissaries were not able to obtain news of what was pa.s.sing within, and did nothing until past noon, when it occurred to them that the cardinal had taken this strange step of closing the inn in order to prevent its being known that Hector and his followers had left Paris.

Men were at once sent off to the different gates of the city, and one of these returning with the news that the north gate had been opened at one o'clock in the morning and that six men bearing a pa.s.s from the cardinal had ridden out, a party of twenty hors.e.m.e.n started out in pursuit, while others were ordered to ride by all the different routes to Poitou, in case, as was likely enough, Hector had ridden to his castle. The fugitive, however, and his followers were all well mounted, and had fourteen hours' start. They separated at Le Mans. Hector here wrote a long letter to the Baronne de Blenfoix, and a shorter one to MacIntosh. The latter he told only that his fief had again reverted to the crown, and gave instructions that the steward should be ordered to return, from the moneys he had in hand, three months' rent to every tenant, to hand the balance to MacIntosh himself, and to hold possession of the chateau and estate until he received orders from the cardinal himself.

MacIntosh was then, with Paolo, two troopers, and his own two sergeants, to escort the baroness and her daughter to Nantes, if she decided to go there. All arrangements were to be completed within twelve hours of Paolo's arrival there. To the baroness he related briefly what had pa.s.sed.

"Therefore, as you see," he said, "there is no course open for me but to fly for England or Ireland, where I intend to settle. I trust, madam, that you and your daughter will accompany me. Putting aside my respect and, I may say, my affection for yourself, you will have understood from what I said to you when last at la Villar, that I hope some day to make your daughter Norah my wife, if I should be so fortunate as to obtain her affections. How this may be I cannot say, but at any rate I trust that you will return to England, and as I have ample funds you may be a.s.sured that my first care will be to provide for your future."

On arriving at Nantes Hector at once rode to the governor, and presented the cardinal's letter to him.

"You may be a.s.sured, Colonel Campbell, that I shall carry out his eminence's instructions," he said, after perusing the cardinal's letter. "I will send an officer down to the port with you to aid you in obtaining pa.s.sage, should there be a ship leaving for England, or to take up a ship for your service."

"I would rather the latter," Hector said. "I may have ladies with me, and so should wish to have plenty of accommodation."

"I am also instructed," the governor said, "to close the gate, in case any party, followers of the Dukes of Vendome or Beaufort, or of any families connected with them, arrive before you leave, and to grant them no admittance until a messenger from the mouth of the river informs me that you are fairly out at sea."

"I am indeed obliged to his eminence for that order, sir; he did not mention to me that he was giving it, but it will certainly save me from much anxiety."

As Hector was not disposed to haggle about terms, he had no difficulty in hiring a vessel to carry them across the Channel. Twenty-four hours after his arrival the party from the chateau rode in, and but half an hour later fifty hors.e.m.e.n wearing the cognizance of Vendome galloped up to the gate. They were headed by four or five gentlemen, one of whom demanded angrily why the gates were shut.

"They are closed by order of the governor," the officer in charge replied.

"Tell the governor that the Count d'Erlon, with a party of gentlemen, retainers of the Duke of Vendome, are here, and demand instant admittance."

Twenty minutes later the governor himself arrived at the gate. "I am sorry, gentlemen," he said, "that I am compelled to keep the gates closed. I have an order from Cardinal Mazarin to that effect, and that, coming from the first minister of France, I dare not disregard even if the duke himself were with you. It would cost me my place, and possibly gain me a cell in the Bastille; and, grieved as I am to refuse admittance to such honourable gentlemen, still I must do so."

"And for how long is this monstrous edict to remain in force?" the leader of the party asked.

"That I am unable to say precisely, but I believe that I can open them tomorrow morning."

"You see, we were right, count," another of the hors.e.m.e.n said. "The description of the man who rode along here with two attendants tallies with that of this Scot, and doubtless this order was brought by him from Mazarin to enable him to get either by water away abroad or to his chateau of la Villar."

"Well, gentlemen, at any rate we have done our best, and though we must have slain the fellow if we had overtaken him, I cannot say that I am altogether grieved that he has escaped. His name is well known to everyone. He did brave service to France under Turenne and Conde. We learned from the messenger who brought the letter from Beaufort that he killed de Beauvais in fair fight, wounded de Vipont, and disarmed the Comte de Marplat, that at night he and five of his followers, though attacked by some thirty ruffians from the faubourgs under Beaufort himself, killed twelve of them outright, and that he himself seriously wounded the duke. Well, there is nothing for us but to ride back to the village we last pa.s.sed through and wait there until tomorrow."

So saying, he mounted his horse and galloped off with his party.

"Who could have thought when we parted last, Colonel Campbell, that we should meet again under such greatly changed circ.u.mstances!" Madame de Blenfoix exclaimed as Hector met the party as they alighted before the princ.i.p.al inn of Nantes.

"It is a change, indeed," he replied; "so great that I myself can hardly realize it, and am not sure whether I am sorry or the reverse at what has taken place."

"I am very glad to hear you say so, as I feared that it would be a terrible blow to you to give up the army."

"I have hardly had time to think of it," he said, "I have had so much else to occupy my thoughts. Now, I pray you, enter the inn for a few minutes; I have warned them to get a meal ready to be served at the shortest notice, for I am anxious that no time shall be lost; everything is ready for our embarkation."

"Had we not best go aboard at once?" she said. "Your enemies might arrive at any moment by what Paolo tells us."

"The matter is not so pressing as I thought, madam, for the cardinal sent orders to the governor that he is not to open the gates to any armed party of friends of Beaufort or Vendome until I am fairly at sea."

He went with the ladies to a private room he had secured.

"I must leave you for a few minutes," he said, "while I have a talk with MacIntosh and the others."

"Well, old friend," he said as he went out to where the little party of Scotchmen were standing in a group, "what are your plans and wishes? 'Tis a pity now that I persuaded you to leave Paris and go down to la Villar, but I did it for the best. I thought of you much as I rode hither."

"Do not trouble about me, colonel, I am by no means sorry at the change. I was getting tired of the cabaret, and should soon have given it up even had you not come to offer me the wardenship of your chateau. I have chatted matters over with my two friends, and we have not yet agreed whether to return to Scotland or to remain in France. At any rate we shall go to Paris first; my money is there all in good keeping, together with the two years' payment for the cabaret. Are you thinking of going to Scotland yourself, colonel?"

"Certainly not to Scotland, I have no friends there, and from all that I have heard the people are so hard and bigoted, so full of their religious differences, that I should feel sorely out of place with them.

"Well, MacIntosh, as soon as I am settled in England I will have a letter conveyed to you in some way at the address of The Scottish Soldier. Wherever I am, there will be a home always open to you, and glad indeed I shall be to have you near me. My four troopers are going to accompany me. I have talked the matter over with them, and have promised that I will find a house with a small farm for them on any estate I may purchase, where they can do such an amount of work as pleases them, or that they can remain in my service on the present conditions. You can make the same offer in my name to your two comrades. After all, things are not so settled across the water that I can dispense with old friends on whom I can rely. Paolo, of course, goes with me, and will be my right hand."

"I will think it all over, Hector, and maybe one of these days I and the other two may knock at your door. It is hard if seven old fellow soldiers could not end their days happily and quietly together."

As soon as the meal had been eaten Hector went to say goodbye to the governor, and heard how Vendome's men had been refused entrance. After thanking him for the courtesy that he had shown him, he returned to the inn. As the party would require horses on landing, and there was plenty of room on board the vessel that he had engaged, Hector shipped the three horses that Conde had given him, and four others for the use of his men, and after a hearty farewell to MacIntosh on his part and that of the ladies, they went on board, and a few minutes later the sails were set and the vessel started down the river. The wind was favourable, and they made a fast voyage down to the sea. Before they reached the mouth of the river, however, Hector had ascertained to his satisfaction that Norah O'More returned the feeling that he felt for her.

"I have loved you," she said, "from the moment when you came to us as our saviour from death on the summit of the turret; and though as time went on I did not venture to think that you, who had so fair a future before you, would ever think of the girl who with her mother you had so n.o.bly entertained and treated, I should never have loved any other man to the end of my life."

The voyage was without incident, and five days after leaving Nantes they arrived at Plymouth. Here Hector hired a house, and when the ladies were comfortably settled he left them in charge of Paolo and two of the men, and rode to London accompanied by the others. Here he called upon the banker whose address Mazarin had given him, and on sending in his name was shown into the room in which private business was transacted.

"You have certain moneys of mine in your hands, Mr. Wilson?"

"I have had fifty thousand crowns for the past three years and have put them out on good security, so that the sum stands at present in my books at sixty-four thousand crowns. Three days ago I received from Cardinal Mazarin bills to the amount of one hundred and fifty thousand crowns, being, he said, due to you for the surrender of the fief of la Villar, and for other services rendered to him. The cardinal is a good paymaster," he added with a slight smile at seeing Hector's surprise at the news, "but it was plain from his letter to me that he considered that the value of your services was greatly in excess of the sum, large as it is, that he sent, especially as they had brought great misfortunes upon you, and had forced you to abandon France, and give up your profession, in which, he said, your prospects of gaining the highest rank were of the brightest. Now, sir, if there are any services that I can render you I am at your disposal. You will naturally wish to invest your money in some way, and, though I say it myself, I know of no one who could lay it out to better advantage."

"You may help me a.s.suredly," Hector said, "for I am an entire stranger in England. I wish to purchase an estate, but have no idea how to set about it, while, doubtless, you are acquainted with many such domains at present for sale. I may say that I will on no account purchase an estate which has been confiscated by parliament on account of its owner being loyal to the crown. Charles II may, and I believe will, return and mount the throne, and these estates will then beyond doubt be restored to their former owners, therefore I will have nought to do with such property."

"You could not choose a better time for laying out your money in land," the banker said. "Great numbers of the n.o.bles and gentlemen of England have been killed or are in exile; many, again, who still hold their land are well nigh ruined by the moneys they spent in the king's service, and would gladly sell now could they obtain anything like a fair value for their estates. I know of a score at least of such properties which are so deeply mortgaged that the owners can scarce afford to live in their own homes, and would gladly take a sum that would suffice to pay off the mortgage and give them the wherewithal to live upon, either abroad or in Virginia, to which colony many loyal gentlemen have already gone to settle. If you will call tomorrow I will give you a list of such estates, with their size, the amount of their revenues, and the price at which their owners would, I know, be glad to sell, for I and some of my friends have been approached by them with that view."

Hector spent the next three weeks in visiting eight of the estates that seemed suitable and were all situated in counties near London. Finally he settled upon one in Berkshire, which was of considerable size and with a stately house in a fair position. This he purchased, and then, returning to Plymouth, his marriage with Norah was celebrated there, and he, with his wife and Madame de Blenfoix and his five followers, rode down into Berkshire and took possession of the estate, with which all were delighted. The troopers, instead of accepting the house he offered them, preferred to remain in his service, and Paolo was installed as majordomo of the household. Six months later MacIntosh and his two comrades came over.

The former declined Hector's offer to take up his abode at the house.

"No, colonel, I have an abundance for myself and my two comrades, and would rather be near you, where we can live in our own fashion, and give trouble to no one."

"Well, if you will not come here, MacIntosh, there is a house a quarter of a mile away which will, I think, suit you well. It is not a large place, but is a comfortable one, and has been used as the house of the steward of the estate. As I shall be my own steward it is vacant, and will, I think, suit you well. It is furnished, so that you and your comrades can move in when you like, though the longer you stay with us the better we shall be pleased."

A fortnight later MacIntosh and his comrades moved in, and there, when not occupied with their duties, one or other of the troopers was generally to be found. Hector often dropped in, and one day laughingly said that the house ought to be renamed The Scottish Soldier.

Until the Restoration Hector kept aloof from London, but when Charles II mounted the throne of his fathers he went up, and was presented at court by one of the many English gentlemen whom he had known in France, where they had sought refuge with the queen when the royal cause was lost in England. He did not, however, repeat the visit very often. He was perfectly happy in his country life, and never once regretted the chain of events that had forced him to give up his life of adventure and excitement and to settle down peacefully in England.

THE END

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