Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- The Lion of the North - 10/57 -
in affright, followed by their companions. They passed close to one of the sentries, who tried in vain to stop them, and then burst into the camp beyond, where their rush startled the horses picketed there. These began to kick and struggle desperately to free themselves from their fastenings. The soldiers, startled at the sudden noise, sprang to their feet, and much confusion reigned until the runaway horses were secured and driven back to their lines.
The instant he had thus diverted the attention of the whole line of sentries along that side of the baggage camp, Malcolm crept quietly up and passed between them. Turning from the direction in which the horses had disturbed the camp, he made his way cautiously along. Only the officers had tents, the men sleeping on the ground around their fires. He had to move with the greatest caution to avoid treading upon the sleepers, and was constantly compelled to make detours to get beyond the range of the fires, round which groups of men were sitting and carousing.
At last he reached the outside of the camp, and taking advantage of every clump of bushes he had no difficulty in making his way through the outposts, for as the enemy was known to be far away, no great vigilance was observed by the sentries. He had still to be watchful, for fires were blazing in a score of places over the country round, showing that the foragers of the army were at their usual work of rapine, and he might at any moment meet one of these returning laden with spoil.
Once or twice, indeed, he heard the galloping of bodies of horse, and the sound of distant pistol shots and the shrieks of women came faintly to his ears. He passed on, however, without meeting with any of the foraging parties, and by morning was fifteen miles away from Tilly's camp. Entering a wood he threw himself down and slept soundly for some hours. It was nearly noon before he started again. After an hour's walking he came upon the ruins of a village. Smoke was still curling up from the charred beams and rafters of the cottages, and the destruction had evidently taken place but the day before. The bodies of several men and women lay scattered among the houses; two or three dogs were prowling about, and these growled angrily at the intruder, and would have attacked him had he not flourished a club which he had cut in the woods for self defence.
Moving about through the village he heard a sound of wild laughter, and going in that direction saw a woman sitting on the ground. In her lap was a dead child pierced through with a lance. The woman was talking and laughing to it, her clothes were torn, and her hair fell in wild disorder over her shoulders. It needed but a glance to tell Malcolm that the poor creature was mad, distraught by the horrors of the previous day.
A peasant stood by leaning on a stick, mournfully regarding her. He turned suddenly round with the weapon uplifted at the sound of Malcolm's approach, but lowered it on seeing that the newcomer was a lad.
"I hoped you were a soldier," the peasant said, as he lowered his stick. "I should like to kill one, and then to be killed myself. My God, what is life worth living for in this unhappy country? Three times since the war began has our village been burned, but each time we were warned of the approach of the plunderers, and escaped in time. Yesterday they came when I was away, and see what they have done;" and be pointed to his wife and child, and to the corpses scattered about.
"It is terrible," Malcolm replied. "I was taken a prisoner but two days since at the sack of New Brandenburg, but I have managed to escape. I am a Scot, and am on my way now to join the army of the Swedes, which will, I hope, soon punish the villains who have done this damage."
"I shall take my wife to her mother," the peasant said, "and leave her there. I hope God will take her soon, and then I will go and take service under the Swedish king, and will slay till I am slain. I would kill myself now, but that I would fain avenge my wife and child on some of these murderers of Tilly's before I die."
Malcolm felt that the case was far beyond any attempt at consolation.
"If you come to the Swedish army ask for Ensign Malcolm Graheme of Reay's Scottish regiment, and I will take you to one of the German corps, where you will understand the language of your comrades." So saying he turned from the bloodstained village and continued his way.
CHAPTER V MARAUDERS
Malcolm had brought with him from Tilly's camp a supply of provisions sufficient for three or four days, and a flask of wine. Before he started from New Brandenburg the syndic had slipped into his band a purse containing ten gold pieces, and whenever he came to a village which had escaped the ravages of the war he had no difficulty in obtaining provisions.
It was pitiable at each place to see the anxiety with which the villagers crowded round him upon his arrival and questioned him as to the position of the armies and whether he had met with any parties of raiders on the way. Everywhere the cattle had been driven into the woods; boys were posted as lookouts on eminences at a distance to bring in word should any body of men be seen moving in that direction; and the inhabitants were prepared to fly instantly at the approach of danger.
The news that Tilly's army was marching in the opposite direction was received with a deep sense of thankfulness and relief, for they were now assured of a respite from his plunderers, although still exposed to danger from the arrival of some of the numerous bands. These, nominally fighting for one or other of the parties, were in truth nothing but marauders, being composed of deserters and desperadoes of all kinds, who lived upon the misfortunes of the country, and were even more cruel and pitiless than were the regular troops.
At one of these villages Malcolm exchanged his attire as a serving man of a rich burgher for that of a peasant lad. He was in ignorance of the present position of the Swedish army, and was making for the intrenched camp of Schwedt, on the Oder, which Gustavus had not left when he had last heard of him.
On the fourth day after leaving the camp of Tilly, as Malcolm was proceeding across a bare and desolate country he heard a sound of galloping behind him, and saw a party of six rough looking horsemen coming along the road. As flight would have been useless he continued his way until they overtook him. They reined up when they reached him.
"Where are you going, boy, and where do you belong to?" the leader of the party asked.
"I am going in search of work," Malcolm answered. "My village is destroyed and my parents killed."
"Don't tell me that tale," the man said, drawing a pistol from his holster. "I can tell by your speech that you are not a native of these parts."
There was nothing in the appointments of the men to indicate which party they favoured, and Malcolm thought it better to state exactly who he was, for a doubtful answer might be followed by a pistol shot, which would have brought his career to a close.
"You are right," he said quietly; "but in these times it is not safe always to state one's errand to all comers. I am a Scotch officer in the army of the King of Sweden. I was in New Brandenburg when it was stormed by Tilly. I disguised myself, and, passing unnoticed, was forced to accompany his army as a teamster. The second night I escaped, and am now making my way to Schwedt, where I hope to find the army."
The man replaced his pistol.
"You are an outspoken lad," he said laughing, "and a fearless one. I believe that your story is true, for no German boor would have looked me in the face and answered so quietly; but I have heard that the Scotch scarce know what danger is, though they will find Tilly and Pappenheim very different customers to the Poles."
"Which side do you fight on?" Malcolm asked.
"A frank question and a bold one!" the leader laughed. "What say you, men? Whom are we for just at present? We were for the Imperialists the other day, but now they have marched away, and as it may be the Swedes will be coming in this direction, I fancy that we shall soon find ourselves on the side of the new religion."
The men laughed. "What shall we do with this boy? To begin with, if he is what he says, no doubt he has some money with him."
Malcolm at once drew out his purse. "Here are nine gold pieces," he said. "They are all I have, save some small change."
"That is better than nothing," the leader said, pocketing the purse. "And now what shall we do with him?"
"He is a Protestant," one of the men replied; "best shoot him."
"I should say," another said, "that we had best make him our cook. Old Rollo is always grumbling at being kept at the work, and his cooking gets worse and worse. I could not get my jaws into the meat this morning."
A murmur of agreement was raised by the other horsemen.
"So be it," the leader said. "Dost hear, lad? You have the choice whether you will be cook to a band of honourable gentlemen or be shot at once."
"The choice pleases me not," Malcolm replied. "Still, if it must needs be, I would prefer for a time the post of cook to the other alternative."
"And mind you," the leader said sharply, "at the first attempt to escape we string you up to the nearest bough. Carl, do you lead him back and set him to work, and tell the men there to keep a sharp watch upon him."
One of the men turned his horse, and, with Malcolm walking by his side, left the party. They soon turned aside from the road, and after a ride of five miles across a rough and broken country entered a
Previous Page Next Page
1 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 20 30 40 50 57
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything