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- Bonnie Prince Charlie - 20/56 -
them still remaining, which will provide my outfit and my maintenance for a long time to come."
"There is another advantage in your being a volunteer, rather than on the list of officers, Ronald; in that if it is necessary at any time, you can, after a word with me, lay aside your uniform and go about your affairs as long as you choose without question, which would be hard to do if you belonged regularly to the regiment."
At the end of a week Ronald had procured his uniform, and was presented by the colonel to the officers of the regiment as Ronald Leslie, the son of an old friend of his, who was joining the regiment as a gentleman volunteer. Malcolm joined only in the capacity of Ronald's servant. It was painful to the lad that his old friend and protector should assume such a relation towards him, but Malcolm laughed at his scruples.
"My dear Ronald," he said, "I was your father's servant, and yet his friend. Why should I not act in the same capacity to you? As to the duties, they are so light that, now I do not belong to the regiment, my only difficulty will be to kill time. There is nothing to do save to polish up your arms and your equipment. Your horse will be looked after by a trooper so long as you are with the regiment. I shall call you in the morning, get your cup of chocolate, and prepare your dinner when you do not dine abroad, carry your messages when you have any messages to send, and escort you when you go about any business in which it is possible that a second sword would be of use to you. As I have said, the only trouble will be to know what to do with myself when you do not want me."
It was now the end of August, and for the next four months Ronald worked hard at drill. He soon became a general favourite with the officers. The fact that his name was Leslie, and that he was accompanied by Malcolm, who was known to many of the old soldiers as being devoted to their former colonel and as having in some strange way disappeared from the regiment at the same time, gave ground to a general surmise that Leslie was the colonel's son.
Malcolm himself, when questioned, neither denied nor acknowledged the fact, but turned it off with a joke and a laugh. He was soon as much at home in his old regiment as if he formed a part in it, and when not required by Ronald passed the greater part of his time with his former comrades. As was natural, the opinion entertained by the men as to Leslie's identity was shared by the officers. The avoidance by Ronald of any allusion to his family, his declining when he first came among them to say to which branch of the Leslies he belonged, and the decided manner in which Colonel Hume, the first time the question was broached in his hearing in Ronald's absence, said that he begged no inquiries would be made on that score; all he could assure them was that Leslie's father was a gentleman of good family, and a personal friend of his own -- put a stop to all further questioning, but strengthened the idea that had got abroad that the young volunteer was the son of Colonel Leslie.
Early in January the 2d Scottish Dragoons marched for Dunkirk, where twenty thousand men assembled, while a large number of men of war and transports were gathered in the port. One day, when Ronald was walking in the street with Malcolm at his heels, the latter stepped up to him and touched him.
"Do you see that officer in the uniform of a colonel of the Black Musketeers, in that group at the opposite corner; look at him well, for he is your father's greatest enemy, and would be yours if he knew who you are; that is the Duke de Chateaurouge."
Ronald gazed at the man who had exercised so evil an influence upon the fate of his parents. He was a tall dark man with a pointed moustache, and of from forty to forty-five years of age. His features were regular and handsome; but in his thin straight eyebrows, the curl of his lips, and a certain supercilious drooping of the eyelids, Ronald read the evil passions which rendered him so dangerous and implacable an enemy.
"So that is the duke!" Ronald said when he had passed on. "I did not know he was a soldier."
"He is an honorary colonel of the regiment, and only does duty when it is called on active service; but he served in it for some years as a young man, and had the reputation of being a good soldier, though I know that he was considered a harsh and unfeeling officer by the men who served under him. That is the man, Ronald, and if you could get six inches of your sword between his ribs it would go a good long way towards obtaining your father's release; but I warn you he is said to be one of the best swordsmen in France."
"I care not how good a swordsmen he is," Ronald said hotly, "if I do but get a fair chance."
"Don't do anything rash, Ronald; I have no fear about your swordsmanship, for I know in the last four months you have practised hard, and that Francois says that young as you are you could give a point to any officer in the regiment. But at present it were madness to quarrel with the duke; you have everything to lose and nothing to gain. If he killed you there would be an end of you and your plans; if you killed him you would have to fly the country, for a court favourite is not to be slain with as much impunity as a bourgeois, and equally would there be an end of all hope of obtaining your father's release.
"No, for the present you must be content to bide your time. Still it is as well for you to know your foe when you see him, and in the meantime go on frequenting the various schools of arms and learn every trick of the sword that is to be taught. Look!" he went on, as a group of mounted officers rode down the street; "that is Marshal Saxe, one of the best soldiers in France, if not the best, and just as wild and reckless in private life as he is calm and prudent as a general."
Ronald looked with some surprise at the great general. He had expected to see a dashing soldier. He saw a man who looked worn and bent with disease, and as if scarce strong enough to sit on his horse; but there was still a fire in his eye, and as he uttered a joke to an officer riding next to him and joined merrily in the laugh, it was evident that his spirit was untouched by the disease which had made a wreck of his body.
A few days later a messenger arrived with the news that the French fleet from Brest had sailed, and had met the English fleet which had gone off in pursuit of it, and the coast of Kent was in consequence unguarded. Orders were instantly given that the troops should embark on board the transports, and as fast as these were filled they set sail. The embarkation of the cavalry naturally took longer time than that of the infantry, and before the Scottish Dragoons had got their horses on board a portion of the fleet was already out of sight.
"Was there ever such luck!" Malcolm exclaimed, after assisting in getting the horses on board, a by no means easy task, as the vessel was rolling heavily at her mooring. "The wind is rising every moment, and blowing straight into the harbour; unless I mistake not, there will be no sailing tonight."
This was soon evident to all. Signals were made from ship to ship, fresh anchors were let down, and the topmast housed. By midnight it was blowing a tremendous gale, which continued for three days. Several of the transports dragged their anchors and were washed ashore, and messages arrived from different parts of the coast telling of the wreck of many of those which had sailed before the storm set in.
The portion of the fleet which had sailed had indeed been utterly dispersed by the gale. Many ships were lost, and the rest, shattered and dismantled, arrived at intervals at the various French ports. The blow was too heavy to be repaired. The English fleet had again returned to the coast, and were on the lookout to intercept the expedition, and as this was now reduced to a little more than half of its original strength no surprise was felt when the plan was abandoned altogether.
Marshal Saxe with a portion of the troops marched to join the army in Flanders, and the Scotch Dragoons were ordered to return to Paris for the present.
For a year Ronald remained with the regiment in Paris. He had during that time been introduced by Colonel Hume to several members of his mother's family. By some of these who had known her before her marriage he was kindly received; but all told him that it would be hopeless to make any efforts for the release of his father as long as the Marquis de Recambours remained alive and high in favour at court, and that any movement in that direction would be likely to do harm rather than good. Some of the others clearly intimated to him that they considered that the countess had, by making a secret marriage and defying her father's authority, forfeited all right to the assistance or sympathy of her mother's family.
Twice Ronald travelled to Tours and sent messages to his mother through Jeanne, and received answers from the countess. She had, however, refused to meet him again on the terrace, saying that in spite of the love she had for him, and her desire to see him again, she was firmly resolved not to run the risk of danger to him and the failure of all their hopes, by any rash step.
At the end of the summer campaign in Flanders Marshal Saxe returned to Paris, and Colonel Hume one day took Ronald and introduced him to him, having previously interested the marshal by relating his history to him. The marshal asked Ronald many questions, and was much pleased with his frank manner and bearing.
"You shall have any protection I can give you," the marshal said. "No man has loved adventures more than I, nor had a fairer share of them, and my sympathies are altogether with you; besides, I remember your father well, and many a carouse have we had together in Flanders. But I am a soldier, you know, and though the king is glad enough to employ our swords in fighting his enemies, we have but little influence at court. I promise you, however, that after the first great victory I win I will ask the release of your father as a personal favour from the king, on the ground that he was an old comrade of mine. I can only hope, for your sake, that the marquis, your grandfather, may have departed this world before that takes place, for he is one of the king's prime favourites, and even the request of a victorious general would go for little as opposed to his influence the other way. And now, if you like, I will give you a commission in Colonel Hume's regiment. You have served for a year as a volunteer now, and younger men than you have received commissions."
Ronald thanked the marshal most heartily for his kind promise, but said that at present he would rather remain as a volunteer, because it gave him greater freedom of action.
"Perhaps you are right," the marshal said. "But at any rate you had better abstain from attempting any steps such as Colonel Hume tells me you once thought of for obtaining the release of your father. Success will be all but impossible, and a failure would destroy altogether any hopes you may have of obtaining his release from the king."
It seemed that some of his mother's family with whom he had communicated must have desired to gain the favour of the favourite of the king by relating the circumstances to him, for a short time after Ronald's interview with the marshal the marquis came up to Colonel Hume when he
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