Chapter 7: The Coming Battle.
Some hours passed, and he was on the point of dropping off to sleep again, when he heard a whistle repeated once or twice, followed by the sharp bark of a dog. It was but a short distance away, and, leaping to his feet, he saw a peasant standing at a distance of two or three hundred yards.
Walter hurried towards him at a speed of which, a few minutes before, he would have thought himself incapable. The man continued whistling, at short intervals, and did not notice Walter till he was within twenty yards distant; then he turned sharply round.
"Who are you?" he asked, clubbing a heavy stick which he held in his hand, and standing on the defensive.
The dress and appearance of the man assured Walter that he was a Catholic, and therefore a friend, and he replied at once:
"I belong to one of the Irish troops of horse. The Enniskilleners surprised a party of us, yesterday, and wounded me, as you see. Fortunately, I escaped in the night, or they would have finished me this morning. I have been out all night in the rain, and am weak from loss of blood and hunger. Can you give me shelter?"
"That I can," the man said, "and gladly. Those villains have been killing and destroying all over the country, and there's many a one of us who, like myself, have been driven to take refuge in the bogs."
"Is it far?" Walter asked; "for I don't think I could get more than a mile or two."
"It is not half a mile," the man said. "You do look nearly done for. Here, lean on me, I will help you along; and if you find your strength go, I will make a shift to carry you."
"It is lucky I heard you whistle," Walter said.
"It is, indeed," the man replied, "for it is not likely anyone else would have come along today. My dog went off after a rabbit, and I was whistling to him to come to me again.
"Ah! Here he is. He has got the rabbit, too. Good dog! Well done!"
He took the rabbit and dropped it into the pocket of his coat. Seeing that Walter was too exhausted to talk, he asked no questions, and said nothing till he pointed to a low mound of earth, and said: "Here we are."
He went round by the side; and Walter perceived that there was a sharp dip in the ground, and that the hut was dug out in the face of the slope; so that, if it were approached either from behind or on either side, it would not be noticed, the roof being covered with sods, and closely matching the surrounding ground.
The man went to the low door, and opened it.
"Come in, sir," he said; "you are quite welcome."
The hut contained two other men, who looked up in surprise at the greeting.
"This is a young officer, in one of our horse regiments," the man said. "He has been in the hands of the Enniskilleners, and has got out from them alive—which is more than most can say. He has had a bad wound, has been wet through for hours, and is half starving. Look sharp, lads, and get something hot, as soon as possible.
"Now, sir, if you will take off those wet things of yours, and wrap yourself in that rug, you will find yourself the better for it. When a man is in health, a few hours wet will not do him any harm; but when he is weak from loss of blood, as you are, the cold seems to get into his bones."
Fresh turfs were at once put on the smouldering fire, which one of the men, leaning down before it, proceeded to blow lustily; and, although much of the smoke made its way out through a hole in the roof, enough lingered to render it difficult for Walter to breathe, while his eyes watered with the sharp fumes. A kettle had been placed on the fire, and in a very short time, a jar was produced from the corner of the hut, and a horn of strong spirits and water mixed.
"Here are some cold praties, sir. It's all we have got cooked by us now, but I can promise you a better meal, later on."
Walter ate the potatoes, and drank the warm mixture. The change from the cold damp air outside, to the warm atmosphere of the hut, aided the effects of the spirits; he was first conscious of a warm glow all over him, and then the voices of the men seemed to grow indistinct.
"You had better stretch yourself on that pile of rushes," the man said, as Walter gave a start, being on the point of rolling over. "Two or three hours' sleep will make a man of you, and by that time dinner will be ready, and your clothes dry."
Walter fell almost instantaneously off to sleep, and it was late in the afternoon before he woke.
"I am afraid I must have slept a long time," he said, sitting up.
"You have had a fine sleep, surely," one of the men replied; "and it's dinner and supper, all in one, that you will have."
Walter found his uniform and underclothes neatly folded up by his side, and speedily dressed himself.
"That sleep has done me a world of good," he said. "I feel quite myself again."
"That's right, yer honour. When you've had your food, I will make a shift to dress that wound at the back of yer head. Be jabbers, it's a hard knock you have had, and a mighty lot of blood you must have lost! Yer clothes was just stiff with it; but I washed most of it out.
"And now, lads, off with the pot!"
A large pot was hanging over the fire, and, when the lid was taken off, a smell very pleasant to Walter's nostrils arose. Four flat pieces of wood served the purpose of plates, and, with a large spoon of the same material, the man who had brought Walter to the hut, and who appeared to be the leader of the party, ladled out portions of the contents. These consisted of rabbit and pieces of beef, boiled up with potatoes and onions. A large jug filled with water, and a bottle of spirits were placed in the centre, with the horn which Walter had before used beside it.
"We are short of crockery," the man said with a laugh. "Here are some knives, but as for forks, we just have to do without them."
Walter enjoyed his meal immensely. After it was finished, the wooden platters were removed, and the jug replenished.
"Now, your honour, will you tell us how you got away from the Protestant rebels, and how was it they didn't make short work of you, when they caught you? It's a puzzle to us entirely, for the Enniskilleners spare neither man, woman, nor child."
Walter related the whole circumstances of his capture, imprisonment, and escape.
"You fooled them nicely," the man said, admiringly. "Sure your honour's the one to get out of a scrape—and you little more than a boy."
"And what are you doing here?" Walter asked, in return. "This seems a wild place to live in."
"It's just that," the man said. "We belonged to Kilbally. The Enniskilleners came that way, and burned it to the ground. They murdered my wife and many another one. I was away cutting peat with my wife's brother here. When we came back, everything was gone. A few had escaped to the bogs, where they could not be followed; the rest was, every mother's son of them, killed by those murdering villains. Your honour may guess what we felt, when we got back. Thank God I had no children! We buried the wife in the garden behind the house, and then started away and joined a band of rapparees, and paid some of them back in their own coin. Then, one day, the Enniskilleners fell on us, and most of us were killed. Then we made our way back to the old village, and came up here and built us this hut. It's a wonder to us how you got here; for there are bogs stretching away in all directions, and how you made your way through them bates us entirely."
"Yours is a sad story, but unfortunately a common one. And how have you managed to live here?"
"There are plenty of potatoes, for the digging of 'em," the man said, "for there are a score of ruined villages within a day's walk. As for meat, there are cattle for the taking, wandering all over the country; some have lately strayed away; but among the hills there are herds which have run wild since the days when Cromwell made the country a desert. As for spirits, I brew them myself. Barley as well as potatoes may be had for the taking. Then, sometimes, the dog picks up a rabbit. Sometimes, when we go down for potatoes, we light on a fowl or two; there's many a one of them running wild among the ruins. As far as eating and drinking goes, we never did better; and if I could forget the old cottage, and the sight that met my eyes when I went back to it, I should do well enough, but, night and day I am dreaming of it, and my heart is sore with longing for vengeance."
"Why don't you join the army?" Walter asked. "There's plenty of room for good men, and yesterday's affair has made some vacancies in my own troop.
"What do you say, lads? You would have a chance of crossing swords with the Enniskilleners, and you could always come back here when the war is over."
"What do you say, boys?" the man asked his companions. "I am just wearying for a fight, and I could die contented, if I could but send a few of those murdering villains to their place, before I go."
The other two men at once agreed. They talked well into the night, and Walter heard many tales of the savage butchery of unoffending peasants, by the men who professed to be fighting for religious liberty, which shocked and sickened him.
It was arranged that they should start on the following morning. The men said that they could guide him across country to Dundalk without difficulty, and assured him that he would be little likely to meet with the enemy, for that the whole country had been so wasted, by fire and sword, as to offer but little temptation even to the most insatiable of plunderers.
Accordingly, the next morning they set out, and arrived late that evening at the camp. Walter found that his father and his followers were absent. They had returned, much surprised at not having been rejoined by Walter's party, but on their arrival they had found there the survivors of his command, who had ridden straight for Dundalk.
After a few hours' stay, to rest the horses, Captain Davenant, with his own men and two of the troops of cavalry, had ridden out in search of the Enniskilleners. Larry, who had been almost wild with grief when the news of the surprise, and, as he believed, the death of Walter, had been brought in, had accompanied the cavalry.
It was late on the following afternoon before they rode into camp. Larry was the first to come in, having received permission from Captain Davenant to gallop on ahead. They had met the enemy, and had inflicted a decisive defeat upon them, but the greater part had escaped, by taking to the hills on their wiry little horses, which were able to traverse bogs and quagmires impassable to the heavy troopers.
Captain Davenant had closely questioned two or three wounded men who fell into his hands. These all declared that a young officer had been captured, in the previous fight, that he had been severely wounded, and carried away senseless, but that he had, in some extraordinary manner, managed to escape that night. This story had greatly raised Captain Davenant's hopes that Walter might yet be alive, a hope which he had not before allowed himself, for a moment, to indulge in; and as he neared Dundalk, he had readily granted leave for the impatient Larry to gallop on ahead, and discover if any news had been received of Walter.
Larry's delight, at seeing his young master standing at the door of the tent, was extreme. He gave a wild whoop, threw his cap high up into the air, and then, without a word of greeting, turned his horse's head and galloped away again, at the top of his speed, to carry the good news to Captain Davenant. Half an hour later, the column rode into camp, and Walter was clasped in his father's arms.
That evening, Walter's three companions were enrolled in the troop, and, hearing that there were vacancies for fifteen more, volunteered to return to the hills, and to bring back that number of men from the peasants hiding there. This mission they carried out, and, by the end of the week, Captain Davenant's troop was again made up to its full strength.
The unsuccessful result of the siege of Schomberg's camp greatly damped Walter's enthusiasm. He had been engaged in two long and tedious blockades, and, with the exception of some skirmishes round Derry, had seen nothing whatever of fighting. Neither operation had been attended by any decisive result. Both had inflicted extreme misery and suffering upon the enemy, but in neither was the success aimed at attained. At the same time, the novelty of the life, the companionship of his father and the other officers of the regiment, and, not least, the good humour and fun of his attendant, Larry, had made the time pass far more cheerfully to him than to the majority of those in the army.
As before, when the army arrived at Dublin, Captain Davenant's troop was posted in and around Bray, the greater portion of it being permitted to reside in their own homes, until again wanted for active service. Walter, on his return, was glad to find that his friend John Whitefoot had made his way home from Derry, and their pleasant intercourse was at once renewed.
Schomberg's army, when moved to healthy quarters and bountifully supplied with all kinds of food and necessaries from England, speedily recovered their health and discipline, and, in a very short time, were again in condition to take the field.
Early in February, 1690, Brigadier Wolseley, with a detachment of Enniskilleners and English, marched against Cavan. James had no longer an army with which he could oppose Schomberg's enterprises. While the latter had been recovering from the effects of his heavy losses, nothing had been done to put the Irish army in a condition to take the field again. They lacked almost every necessary for a campaign. No magazines had been formed to supply them, when they should again advance; and so short of forage were they, that it was considered impossible to make any move in force, until the grass should grow sufficiently to enable the horses to get into condition.
Nevertheless, the Duke of Berwick marched with eight hundred men from Dublin, and Brigadier Nugent with a like force from West Meath and Longford, and arrived at Cavan a few hours before the English reached the town. The Irish force was composed entirely of infantry, with the exception of two troops of cavalry. The English force consisted of seven hundred foot, and three hundred cavalry.
As Cavan did not offer any advantages in the way of defence, the Duke of Berwick moved his army out into the open field. The English lined the hedges, and stood on the defensive. The Irish horse commenced the battle with a furious charge on the Enniskilleners and dragoons, and drove them from the field; but the English infantry maintained their position so stoutly that, after a prolonged fight, the Irish retreated into a fort near the town. The English and Enniskilleners entered Cavan, and at once began to plunder the place.
Hearing what was going on, the Duke of Berwick sallied out from his fort to attack them, and gained considerable advantage. Brigadier Wolseley, being unable to restore discipline among the Enniskilleners, who formed the great majority of his force, ordered the town to be set on fire in several places. The troops then collected, and repulsed the Irish with considerable loss.
The Duke of Berwick had two hundred killed, amongst whom were Brigadier Nugent and many officers. As the Irish remained in possession of the fort, and the town was almost entirely destroyed by fire, Brigadier Wolseley returned with his force to Dundalk.
Shortly afterwards, the Fort of Charlemont was invested by a strong detachment of Schomberg's army. Teigue O'Regan, the veteran governor, defended the place with the greatest bravery, and did not capitulate until the 14th of May, when the last ounce of provisions was consumed. The garrison were allowed honourable terms, and the eight hundred men who defended the place, with their arms and baggage, and some two hundred women and children, were allowed to march away. The Enniskilleners treated the Irish soldiers and their families with great brutality, as they passed along, but Schomberg humanely ordered that a loaf of bread should be given to each man at Armagh. The Irish army were not in condition to render any assistance to the hard pressed garrison of Charlemont, until after they had capitulated.
In the meantime, a great army, which was to be led by King William in person, was being collected in England. It consisted of a strange medley, collected from almost every European nation—English, Scotch, Irish Protestants, French Huguenots, Dutch, Swedes, Danes, Brandenburghers, Swiss, Norwegians, and Hessians. More than half, indeed, were foreigners. All were well disciplined, armed, and clothed. In all, including the force under Schomberg, the army amounted to forty-three thousand men, and fifty cannon.
King William landed at Carrickfergus, on the 14th of June, and the combined army at once began their southward march. Against this force, King James collected but twenty thousand men. Of these, six thousand were French. They had arrived, under the command of the Count de Lauzun, in March, but they had not increased the numbers of King James's troops, for he had been obliged to send, in exchange, an equal number of his best-trained soldiers, under Lord Mountcashel, for service in France. Of the fourteen thousand native troops, the Irish horse, which was raised and officered by Irish gentlemen, was excellent, but the infantry was composed for the most part of raw levies, but half armed, and the only artillery consisted of twelve guns, which had arrived with the infantry from France.
It was a sad parting, when Captain Davenant and Walter left home for the front. The former was filled with gloomy forebodings. He could scarcely hope that the ill-trained levies of James could succeed against the vastly superior force, of disciplined troops, with whom they had now to cope; especially as the latter were led by an able and energetic general, while the former were hampered by the incompetence and vacillation of James.
The day before they started, Captain Davenant rode over to the Whitefoots and had a talk with Jabez.
"I know not how the campaign will go," he said. "If we are beaten, we shall probably retire to the west, and maintain the war there. In that case, Dublin will of course fall into the hands of William. Should this be so, I will ask you to reverse our late position, and to extend what assistance you can to my wife and mother. It may be that, if I do not return here, none will disturb them. I have not made myself obnoxious to my Protestant neighbours, and no one may take the trouble to bring it before the notice of the English that I am absent, fighting with the army of King James. If, however, they should do so, and the castle and what remains of the estates be confiscated, will you lend what aid you can to the ladies, and my younger boy, until I or Walter return from the war?"
"That will I do, right gladly," Jabez said, heartily. "Should I hear any talk of what you speak of, I will go up to Dublin with some of our friends and ministers, and we will testify to the good relations which have existed between you and your Protestant neighbours, and entreat that no measures be taken against your estate. Should we not prevail, be assured that I will look after the comfort of the ladies, as if they were of my own family.
"I can well understand that Mrs. Davenant, the elder, would not accept the shelter of our roof, whatever her extremity. She belongs to the generation of my father, and cannot forget the past; but I will see that they are well lodged in Bray, and have every protection from molestation and annoyance there. Should I find, as, alas! may be the case, that the spirit of religious persecution is fiercely abroad, I will consult with them, as to whether they may wish to cross the sea until you can join them, and will make arrangements, as they may direct, for their passage."
"I am truly obliged to you," Captain Davenant said. "It will make me comfortable to know that, whatsoever may befall me, they will have a friend in these stormy times."
"Say nought about it," Jabez replied. "Did not you and your son succour my boy in his extremity? If I do all, and more than all that I can in this matter, I shall not deem that we are quits."
The Irish army moved forward to the Boyne, which William was approaching from the north. James's officers endeavoured to dissuade him from setting everything on the hazard of the battle. They represented that his army, though now quite unequal to the contest, was rapidly improving in skill and confidence in itself; that reinforcements were every day expected from France, which would at least make them equal to the enemy in numbers; that they were in want of arms, artillery, and stores, all which might be expected also from France, in a short period; and that their policy was clearly to protract the war, and wear out the enemy by a contest of posts and sieges.
Unskilled as his troops might be in the field, they had proved themselves steady and resolute in the defence of fortified places. They held all the great fortresses of the kingdom, and it would be easy to provide for the defence of these, and to occupy William's army in small affairs, till the winter, when the climate would do execution upon the invaders, while the Irish would suffer little. Then would be the time to fight.
In the meantime, it was urged, the intrigues the French were actively carrying out in Britain would have produced some effect. The French fleet was, every day, expected on the coast of England, and William would soon be compelled to return to that country, if not to recall the greater part of his army. In Scotland, too, the French were busy; and there were materials in that country for creating a powerful diversion. To fight now would be to forego every advantage, and to meet the views of William, whose obvious interest it was to bring the contest to an immediate decision, now, while every circumstance was in his favour.
But James, who had hitherto shown nothing but timidity and hesitation, was now seized with an impulse of valour. Having acted with unfortunate cowardice before Derry, and Schomberg's camp at Dundalk, he was, as unfortunately, now seized with ardour to fight, when prudence and discretion would have been his best policy. But while James was determining to fight, in the teeth of the opinion and advice of his bravest officers, his true character was shown in his taking every precaution for his personal safety. He sent off his heavy baggage, and engaged a vessel, at Waterford, to convey him to France.
William, on the other hand, was naturally eager for an early engagement. He was still very insecurely seated upon the English throne. The people were either discontented or indifferent. They looked with impatience and indignation at the crowd of Dutch officers and civilians, whom William had brought over with him; while the cold and ungracious manner of the king contrasted, most unfavourably, with the bearing to which they had been accustomed in English monarchs.
In Scotland, the Jacobite spirit was gathering in strength, and William knew that, unless he speedily broke the strength of James's party in Ireland, he would very shortly be confronted with difficulties and dangers on all sides.
The position which the Irish army occupied was a strong one. Its right rested upon Drogheda, a strong town in their possession. In front was the Boyne, with steep banks lined with thick hedges, with cottages scattered here and there, offering an excellent position for light troops. On the left, the Boyne turned almost at a right angle, and formed a defence on this flank. To the rear, the Irish position was covered by high hills and the village of Donore. Further back was the pass of Duleek. The hedges and cottages by the river side were occupied by the Irish infantry, and upon some little hillocks, which ran along the water's edge, they erected some light batteries.
King William reconnoitred the position with great attention, and saw that it had been well chosen, and its advantages turned to account. Notwithstanding the reports of deserters and others, he showed much anxiety to determine the exact strength of the Irish. After examining the position for some time from a height, he rode down towards the river, accompanied by several of his officers. When within musket shot of the bank, near the ford and village of Old Bridge, he perceived that a small island in the Boyne was occupied by a party of the Irish horse. Near the ford some field works had been thrown up. It was at this point that the king determined to cross the river, and he spent some time conversing with his officers, as to the arrangements for the passage.
He then rode slowly along the river bank, until he arrived nearly opposite the left of the Irish line. Here he alighted from his horse, and sat down on rising ground, watching his own battalions, which were marching, with the greatest regularity and order, into the positions assigned to them.
While he was so engaged, some officers of James's army were observed, riding quietly along the opposite bank of the river, and also engaged in watching the movements of the British troops. These were General Sarsfield, the Duke of Berwick, the Marquis of Tyrconnell, the Count de Lauzun, and others. Some of the English dragoons approached the river, and were fired upon by the Irish. They returned the fire, and, while the attention of both sides was engaged by the skirmish, a party of Irish cavalry moved slowly down towards the river and halted behind a low hedge, and then, wheeling about, again retired.
The movements of the king, and the group of officers accompanying him, had been observed in the Irish army, and two field pieces were sent down, concealed in the centre of the cavalry. The guns had been placed behind the hedge when the horsemen withdrew, and, when William rose from the ground and mounted his horse, fire was opened. The first cannon shot killed two horses, and a man by his side. The next grazed the king's right shoulder, tearing away his coat and inflicting a slight flesh wound. Had the aim been slightly more accurate, or had the gunners fired with grape, instead of round shot, it is probable that the whole course of history would have been changed.
The rumour spread through both armies that the king was killed; but the wound was a slight one, and, having had it hastily bound up, the king rode quietly through the camps, in order to show the men that the hurt was not serious. In the evening, he called a council of war. The Duke of Schomberg was strongly opposed to an attack upon the enemy, while posted in so strong a position, and urged that, by making a turning movement and marching straight upon Dublin, the enemy would be obliged to fall back, and fight under less advantageous circumstances. But the king, relying upon his superior numbers and the discipline of his veteran troops, determined to attack at once, knowing that it was all important to bring the matter to a decision, as early as possible.
Schomberg then urged the necessity of occupying the pass of Slane, upon the Boyne, considerably to the west of the Irish line, as he would thus cut off their retreat, and, in the event of victory, render their defeat a decided one; but the king saw that he should require his whole force to dislodge the Irish from their position, and that it was useless to occupy the pass of Slane with a small detachment, as these would be overwhelmed by the retiring Irish.
It was twelve o'clock at night, before the council terminated, and then the king mounted his horse and rode through the camp. He examined into the state and preparation of each regiment, saw that the soldiers were abundantly supplied with food and refreshment for the morning, and that sufficient ammunition for the day's work had been served out. He directed the men to wear green branches in their caps, and gave "Westminster" as the word for the day.
The order of the battle finally determined upon was that the right wing of the army, under General Douglas and Count Schomberg, son of the duke, should pass the river at Slane and endeavour to turn the Irish left, between Slane and Duleek. The left wing were to penetrate between the Irish right and Drogheda; the centre to force the passage of the river, at the ford of Old Bridge.
A council was also held in James's camp, and here also there was difference of opinion. Some of the generals wished to hold the pass of Slane in force, but James decided against this. As the morning approached, the king's newborn courage began to die out. He ordered some movements to the rear, and sent forward more of his baggage. He would probably have declined the combat altogether, had it not been too late. Finally, just as day was breaking over the council, he determined that the army should retreat during the battle, and not commit themselves in a decisive engagement. The French formed the left, and were to lead the retreat, while the Irish held the right and centre.
It is almost certain that, if James had kept to his resolution to fight, imprudent as it appeared to be, and had brought the French battalion into action, instead of leading them out of the field, the result of the battle of the Boyne would have been a very different one.
Chapter 8: Boyne Water.
The morning of Tuesday, the 1st of July, 1690, broke calm and bright. At about six o'clock in the morning the English right wing, under General Douglas and Count Schomberg, marched towards Slane. It consisted of twenty-four squadrons of horse, and six battalions of infantry. As they marched along at the back of the river, they discovered several shallows, and crossed without proceeding as far as Slane. No serious resistance was offered to their passage of the Boyne, as the Irish had here only some parties of skirmishers, who fell back as they advanced.
After forming the troops in order, Douglas and Schomberg advanced, but presently perceived the French battalions and a great part of the Irish cavalry, forming the left wing of James's army, drawn up in order at some distance. They consequently halted, and sent for reinforcements. When these arrived, they extended their lines to the right, so as to outflank the enemy, and, supporting their cavalry by alternate battalions of infantry, again moved forward.
The Irish skirmishers fell back before their advance, taking advantage of the banks of the ditches, which divided the ground into small fields, and keeping up a galling fire upon the British as they advanced. With some difficulty, the latter passed over this broken ground and formed in order of battle, on the edge of what appeared to be a plain, but which was in fact a deep bog, which completely covered the Irish left. Here they came to a standstill.
William had waited, until he believed that his right would have had time to fall upon the Irish left, and then ordered his centre to advance and force the passage at Old Bridge. The Dutch guards, whom William relied upon as his best and most trustworthy troops, advanced in splendid order to the river side, with their drums beating the march. When they reached the water's edge the drums ceased, and the soldiers entered the river. The stream rose as the dense column marched in and dammed it up, and the water reached the shoulders of the grenadiers, but they still moved on, in regular order, keeping their arms and ammunition dry by holding them above their heads. On the opposite bank, the hedges near the brink of the river were lined with skirmishers, while in the rear, in a hollow covered by some little hills, seven regiments of Irish infantry, supported by ten troops of horse and Tyrconnell's regiment of cavalry, were drawn up. The hills protected them from the fire of the British batteries, which passed over their heads.
The Dutch troops continued their way unmolested, until they reached the middle of the river, when a hot fire was opened upon them from the Irish skirmishers; but the Dutch moved on, unshaken, and soon gained the opposite bank, where they rapidly formed up, the skirmishers retiring before them. Scarcely had the Dutch formed their squares, when the Irish horse burst down upon them at full speed, and charged them with impetuosity.
They stood the charge unbroken, but again and again the Irish horse charged down upon them, with the greatest gallantry. William pushed two regiments of French Huguenots and one of British across the river, to the assistance of the Dutch guards, and ordered Sir John Hanmars and the Count of Nassau's regiment to cross, lower down the stream, to support them.
As the supports were making a passage, General Hamilton advanced, at the head of a body of Irish infantry, to the water's edge, and, dashing into the river, encountered the French Huguenot regiments in the middle of the stream. A desperate fight ensued, but the French made their way across, and Hamilton, falling back with his infantry, opened to the right and left, permitting the Irish horse to charge through them.
These rushed with fury upon the French regiment of Colonel La Callimot, and cut their way right through them. Then, wheeling, they charged them in flank again, broke them, and drove them into the river. La Callimot himself was killed, and but few of his regiment regained the opposite bank.
In the meantime the Dutch guards, now reinforced, were advancing slowly, the Irish infantry holding fast to the hedges and brushwood, and contesting every inch of the ground, while, wherever the ground permitted it, the Irish horse burst down upon them, evincing a gallantry and determination which would have done honour to the finest cavalry in Europe. The king continued to make repeated efforts to support his Dutch troops, and, after the French were broken, he pushed forward the Danish horse; but no sooner had they crossed the bank than the Irish cavalry burst down upon them, broke them, and drove them back into the river. They fled across the stream in disorder, and dispersed in all directions.
So far, success had rested principally with the Irish; the Dutch guards alone remained unbroken in the centre; the French infantry and Danish horse were broken and destroyed. Old Duke Schomberg exerted himself to the utmost, to restore the battle at this point, and, having rallied the French infantry advanced with them, and a few French cavalry, towards the river, where he was met by some of the Irish horse returning from the pursuit of the Danes. The old duke was cut down and his party again routed, and at the same moment Walker, the clerical commander of Derry, received a mortal wound.
After his successful defence of Derry, this man had gone to London, where he had been feted and made much of, and had then attached himself to King William's army, where he posed as a high military authority, although much discouraged by the king, whom his arrogance and airs of authority displeased.
While in the centre William's forces were getting worsted, and on his right Douglas and Count Schomberg were inactive and powerless, he himself was leading his left wing across the river. The passage was a difficult one, and the king himself was only extricated, with much exertion, from a quicksand into which his horse had plunged.
The Irish did not oppose the crossing, and as soon as his forces were across the stream, William ranged them in order. They consisted of a large body of Danish, Dutch, and Enniskillen horse, and a considerable force of infantry. As soon as all were in order the king, though still suffering from the wound he had received the day before, drew his sword and put himself at the head of his troops.
The Irish right wing, which consisted chiefly of infantry, moved forward to meet them, but perceiving the numerous cavalry, led by the king himself, preparing to take them in flank, they halted, faced about and marched slowly to the little hill of Donore. Having gained this point, they again faced round and charged down upon the British, who had followed them closely.
At this moment the Irish cavalry, who had moved rapidly from the centre to the support of the right, charged down upon the Danish and Dutch horse led by the king, and no sooner had they come in contact than the Danes and Dutch turned and rode off, with the Irish cavalry in pursuit. The king rode towards the Enniskilleners. Colonel Wolseley told his men that it was the king, and asked if they wished to follow him. They replied with a shout, and the king, placing himself at the head, rode towards the Irish infantry; but as they advanced they were met by a well-directed volley, and, being much more fond of plundering and slaughtering than of close fighting, they turned horse and rode away.
Again and again the king rallied his infantry and brought them back to the fight, but the Irish infantry stood their ground with great steadiness, until Hamilton, their general, was wounded and taken in a charge of cavalry. After this, they fell back from Donore upon Duleek in good order, the enemy not wanting to molest them, and the rest of the Irish infantry followed their example.
No more singular battle than that of the Boyne was ever fought. In the morning, at break of day, part of James's army, with most of his artillery, were in march for the pass of Slane, and actually on their retreat. The left wing, composed chiefly of French infantry, supposed to be the best troops in the army, never fired a shot. The centre and right, composed entirely of Irish, most of whom had never before been in battle, were alone engaged. With the exception of his Dutch guards, all William's foreign troops had been repeatedly broken; his cavalry had been driven off the field by the Irish horse, while no division of the Irish was broken or suffered a decided defeat, until the infantry from the hill of Donore were compelled to retreat, which they did in perfect order.
Throughout the day, the Irish cavalry showed a vast superiority to those of the British, and even broke and destroyed regiments of infantry; and when the whole army fell back they closed up the rear, and effectually prevented any attempt at pursuit. Thus, the battle of the Boyne was fought rather to cover a retreat than defend a position. The loss on either side was estimated at about five hundred, and General Hamilton was the only prisoner taken by the British.
The honours of the fight certainly rested with the Irish, who, against a vastly superior force, comprising some of the best troops in Europe, maintained themselves throughout the day, and gained, indeed, in most points, a decided advantage.
King James's valour had entirely evaporated before the first shot was fired. Instead of following William's example, and leading his troops in the conflict which was to decide the fate of his crown, and which he himself had precipitated, he took up his position at a safe distance from danger, on the hill of Donore, and as soon as the battle approached that point he rode off to Duleek, where he placed himself at the head of the French troops, and led their retreat. He soon, however, rode on ahead, and arrived in Dublin in a state of consternation and despair, the first fugitive from the field of battle. In the meantime the army was whole and unbroken, marching in perfect order from the field of battle, while its king and commander was doing his best to ruin the cause by spreading dismay and alarm throughout the country.
The next morning the king sent for the mayor and corporation of Dublin, and told them that he was under the necessity of taking care of himself, and recommended them to do the same, and to make the best terms they could with the enemy. He then at once mounted and made his flight to Waterford, ordering the bridges to be broken down behind him, although the British army had not yet moved from its position on the Boyne. On reaching Waterford James at once embarked on board the ship he had ordered to be in readiness, and sailed for France. His conduct, and his conduct alone, converted the battle of the Boyne, which was in effect a kind of drawn battle, into a great victory for William.
It had, indeed, more than answered the object which the Irish commanders proposed to themselves. Their plan was to accustom the new and badly armed levies to stand firm against the steadiness and experience of William's veteran troops, and then to withdraw without committing themselves to a decisive combat, with a view of protracting the campaign until William should be forced to leave Ireland, and his foreign army should be worn out by winter service in an uncongenial climate. Every day would, they calculated, improve their own army and weaken and reduce that of the enemy.
Their position at the Boyne enabled them to try their plan of partial combat to what extent they chose, without danger of being forced into a more extensive action than they deemed expedient. The Irish troops had greatly surpassed the expectation of their own officers, and had filled William's generals with amazement; and it is probable that, if a large part of the infantry and artillery had not been sent off early in the day, the experiment might have been turned into a brilliant victory. As it was, William was so surprised and alarmed at the resistance he had encountered, that he remained some days at the Boyne without advancing. He had been told by all, except the Duke of Schomberg, that the resistance of the Irish would be contemptible, and the most forward of those who had scoffed at the courage of the Irish had been the Enniskilleners, who had themselves, on the day of battle, shown so unmistakably the white feather. After this the king disliked and despised these troops, and hung them without ceremony, when taken in those acts of plunder and slaughter to which they were so much addicted.
So far from the flight of King James discouraging the army, it caused universal joy. It was his constant vacillation, interference, and cowardly action which had paralysed his troops; and they felt that, now they were free to act without his interference, they would be able to cope with the invaders.
William at once offered favourable terms, if Ireland would submit to his authority; but these were declined, partly owing to the powerful influence of France, partly to the fear that the terms would not be observed, partly to the apprehension of all the gentry, that the lands which they had but just recovered from the hands of Cromwell's settlers would be again taken from them.
At the battle of the Boyne, Walter Davenant, with his father's troop, had taken part in all the desperate charges upon the enemy. During the long hours the battle had lasted, the cavalry had been incessantly engaged. Time after time they had charged down upon the Dutch squares, and no sooner had the ranks been reformed, after recoiling from the line of fixed bayonets, than they were called upon to charge in another direction.
Walter's heart beat high as they dashed into the midst of the French infantry, or shattered and drove before them the Danish horse; but there was little time to think, and, looking back upon the day when all was over, it seemed to him a chaos of excitement and confusion, of which he could hardly recall even the chief incidents.
As the troops halted for the night, they were in no way dispirited at the result of the battle, as the retreat had been begun before a blow was struck. They knew that it was neither intended nor hoped that the ground would be successfully held; and every man felt a pride in the thought that some eighteen thousand newly-raised Irish levies, of whom but a small portion of the infantry were armed with muskets, had sustained, throughout a long summer's day, the attacks of more than double their number of veteran troops, supported by fifty pieces of artillery.
The loss of the Irish horse had been comparatively small. Charging a square, in the days when the bayonet was fixed in the muzzle of the gun, was not the desperate undertaking that it now is, when from the hedge of steel issues a rolling and continuous fire. The French regiment, once broken, had been cut down with scarce any resistance, while the mercenary cavalry had been defeated with the greatest ease. Thus, among the brigade of the Irish horse there were but few fallen friends to mourn, and nothing to mar the pride that every man felt, in the behaviour of the Irish troops against such overwhelming odds. That the king had fled, everyone knew, but the feeling was one of relief.
"His absence is more than a victory to us," Captain Davenant said, as, with a group of officers, he sat by a fire, made of a fence hastily pulled down. "His majesty has his virtues, and, with good counsellors, would make a worthy monarch; but among his virtues military genius is not conspicuous. I should be glad, myself, if Lauzun and the French would also take their departure, and let us have Mountcashel's division back again from France. If we are left to ourselves, with our own generals, Sarsfield and Mountcashel, we can tire out this continental riffraff that William has gathered together. The dissensions caused by French interference have been our ruin, so far; leave us to ourselves, and we shall do. The Irish today have proved their fighting qualities; and, if proper use is made of the resources and difficulties of the country, I defy them to conquer us. I feel more hopeful now than I have done since the first day we took the field."
"Do you think we shall fight another battle before Dublin, father?" Walter asked.
"I have no idea what the generals will decide, Walter, but I should imagine that we shall march to the west. We had a strong position today, but in the open field, at present, we could not hope to cope with William's superior numbers and great artillery train. His guns were little use to him yesterday; but on level ground they would tear our ranks to pieces, without our being able to make any return. Among the rivers and bogs and mountains of the west, we should find scores of places which we could hold against them. Besides, in my opinion we should not fight pitched battles, but should harass them with continuous marches and attacks, leaving them masters only of the ground they stand on, until, at last, we completely wear them out and exhaust them."
"Then you think we shall abandon Dublin altogether?"
"I think so, Walter."
"But will they not persecute the Catholics, when they have them in their power?"
"There may be some disturbance in the city, Walter, before the English troops march in; but William will, no doubt, put an end to this as soon as he arrives. He cannot wish to drive the Catholics of Ireland to desperation. At any rate, I do not think we need feel at all uneasy about those at home. Lying on the coast to the east of the town of Dublin, and altogether out of the track of the movements of troops, there is little fear of trouble there. In our district there is little preponderance, in numbers, of one religion over the other; and unless the presence of troops, or worse, of those savages from Enniskillen or Derry, excite them, there is little fear of the Protestants of that neighbourhood interfering with our people, especially as they have no grounds for complaint in the past. No, I do not think that you need disquiet yourself, in the slightest, about those at home."
As Captain Davenant had thought probable, the Irish army, after marching into Dublin in good order, with flags flying and music playing, left on the following day for the west. They were accompanied by most of the leading Catholic families; and on their departure the corporation at once wrote to William, inviting him to enter the capital. Before his arrival, however, the Protestant mob destroyed a great quantity of property belonging to the Catholics, and carried their excesses to such a point that the town would probably have been destroyed by fire, had not the better classes of Protestants armed themselves, and taken energetic steps to repress the tumult.
As the troops marched into Dublin, Walter said to Captain Davenant:
"Can I ride over to see how they are at home? They will have heard of the battle. Mother and grandmother must be terribly anxious."
"I shall be glad for you to go, Walter, for it would greatly ease their minds at home; but we are to start again, almost immediately, and probably the whole army will have marched off before you get back in the morning. There is no saying what may occur, after we have gone. There may be a general attack upon the Catholics. At any rate, it will be dangerous in the extreme for a single officer, in our uniform, to be riding through the town after we have left. Even in the country villages there must be intense excitement, and anyone in the king's uniform might be fired at, in passing through any of the Protestant settlements."
"Well, father, suppose I do not start until it gets dark, then I can get home without attracting notice. There I can put on a suit of my old clothes, and bring my uniform out in my valise."
"Well, perhaps you might manage in that way, Walter; and I should be very glad to relieve their minds at home, and to know how they are going on. If you like, you can stop there for a day or two. I don't suppose that William will be here with his troops, for a few days. He has learned that our army is not to be despised, and he may hesitate to advance upon Dublin, until he receives certain news that we have moved away, and that he will not have to fight another battle for the possession of the city. Should you hear that William's troops have arrived in the town, you will of course make a detour, so as to avoid it, on your way to rejoin us; and now I will write a letter, at once, for you to take to your mother."
As soon as it was dark, Walter mounted and started for Bray, where he arrived without molestation on the way. His arrival was an immense relief to the ladies, who had been suffering an agony of suspense since the news of the battle had reached them. King James's hurried arrival, and panic flight to Waterford, had caused the most alarming reports as to the battle to circulate throughout the country, and by many it was supposed that his army had been utterly destroyed. Walter's arrival, then, with the news that his father, as well as himself, had passed through the day unhurt, was an immense relief; and they were grateful to learn that, so far from having been routed, the Irish army had accomplished its object, of fighting the battle and then falling back in perfect order and without molestation.
"Father says, mother, that he believes next time, when we shall be no longer hampered by the interference of the king, we shall be able to make even a better fight of it, especially if, as we all hope, the French officers will follow the king's example and take themselves off."
"How long are you going to stay, Walter?"
"I shall stay over tomorrow, mother, and start next morning early. I ought to be able to come up to the army before night, but, if not, I shall overtake them on the march next day."
"I wish I was older," Godfrey, who had been listening to the account of the battle, said. "It is so hard to have to stay at home here, while you and father are having such fun!"
"You would not think it was fun, if you were with us, Godfrey," Walter said. "I used to think it would be fun, but I don't think so now. Just while the fighting is going on, one is so excited that one doesn't think of the danger, but when it is over, it is awful to see the gaps in the ranks, and to know that so many of those who were riding with you have fallen, and that it may be your turn, next time."
"Ah, it's all very well for you to talk, Walter, because you are going through it all, but you would think just the same as I do, if you were in my place."
"That is true enough, Godfrey. Anyhow, I am glad you are not old enough. I don't mean that I should not like to have you with us, but then there would be nobody at home with mother. Now, if anything happens to father and me, she has got you, and as you grow up you will be able to look after her, and take care of her. It is bad enough for her having two of us in the war. It would be worse, still, if there were three."
As, the next evening, Walter heard that there was news that William's troops had not yet moved from the Boyne, he thought that it was safe to take the direct road through Dublin. He had laid aside his uniform, on reaching home, and in the morning started in his civilian clothes, with the uniform in the valise, strapped behind the saddle. He carried his sword, as usual, for almost all gentlemen at that time rode armed, and this would therefore excite neither comment nor attention. He carried also a brace of pistols, in a belt underneath his coat.
On arriving in Dublin, he found the greatest uproar and excitement prevailing. Mobs of men were marching through the streets, smashing the windows of Catholics and sacking the houses. Fortunately, he was warned, before he got into the thick of the tumult, by meeting some women running and crying loudly. He asked what was the matter, and learned that their houses had been sacked, and that any Catholic found in the street was being beaten and ill treated. As Walter was anxious to avoid anything which might arrest his journey westward, he made his way out of the town, as soon as possible, and was heartily glad when he reached the outskirts, and gave rein to his horse.
He passed many groups of people as he rode. Some were Protestants, making their way to Dublin to join in the greeting to William and his army, on their arrival. Others were Catholics, afraid to remain in their abodes now that the army had retired west, and journeying to the capital, where they believed that William would prevent disorder and pillage. It needed no inquiry, as to the religion of the respective groups. The Protestants were for the most part men, and these came along shouting and waving their weapons, wild with exultation over the triumph of their cause. The Catholics were of all ages and both sexes. Many of them had carts, and were carrying with them their most valued possessions. All wore an expression of grief and anxiety.
As Walter rode into one village, a fray was going on. A party of Protestants, riding boisterously along, had knocked down a woman with a child in her arms, and had answered the angry remonstrance of the peasants with jeers and laughter. Stones had begun to fly. The Protestants had drawn their swords; the villagers had caught up hoes, spades, and other weapons, and a fierce fight was going on. The women, with shrill cries, encouraged the peasants, and aided them by hurling stones at the rioters. Walter saw that his interference would be of no avail, and, with a heavy heart at the bitter hatred which the two parties in Ireland exhibited for each other, he turned from the road, made a circuit round the village, and continued his way. After that, he avoided all towns and villages, and slept at night in the cabin of a peasant, lying some little distance from the road. The following day he again pressed on, and before evening overtook the retiring army.
On the arrival of King William with his army in Dublin, a proclamation was issued assuring all, save those who resisted his authority, of his protection, and threatening severity against those who disturbed the peace or committed outrage on personal property. Letters of protection were granted to all who applied for them and, hearing this, Jabez Whitefoot at once went into Dublin, to apply for protection for the family of Captain Davenant. On hearing, however, that no persecution of Catholics would be allowed, and that the army was likely to march west, at once, in pursuit of the Irish, he thought it better to leave the matter alone, as his application would only draw the attention of the authorities to the fact of Captain Davenant and his son being engaged in the hostile army. He felt sure that the ladies need fear no molestation, save from the soldiers or Northerners, as his own influence with the Protestants of his neighbourhood would suffice to prevent these from interfering with the household at the castle.
The Irish army marched towards the Shannon, and were concentrated part in the neighbourhood of Athlone, and part at Limerick. William shortly prepared to follow them. He, too, divided his army into two columns. The main body, under his own command, took the road to Limerick; while the other division, consisting of five regiments of cavalry and twelve of infantry, was despatched, under the command of General Douglas, for the purpose of investing the fortress of Athlone.
As the armies marched west, their path was marked by wholesale outrage and destruction. Although protections were granted to the peasants and inhabitants of the towns and villages through which the armies marched, they were entirely disregarded by the soldiers, who plundered, ill used, and sometimes murdered the defenceless people, carrying away without payment all provisions on which they could lay their hands.
The king sometimes hanged those who were caught in these acts of plunder and slaughter, but this had but little effect. The Dutch soldiers, alone, maintained their order and discipline. The foreign mercenaries, composed for the most part of the sweepings of the great cities, behaved with a brutality and cruelty almost without example, and which was acknowledged by all the historians of the time, Protestant as well as Catholic. Indeed, the Protestant inhabitants suffered even more than the Catholics, for many of the latter fled at the approach of the army, while the Protestants, regarding them as friends and deliverers, remained quietly at home, and suffered every insult and outrage at the hands of this horde of savages, who were perfectly indifferent as to the religion of those they plundered.
Captain Davenant's troop was with the force which had retired to Athlone, and there awaited the approach of the column of General Douglas. The reports of the conduct of the enemy, that were brought in by the flying peasants, filled the Irish troops with indignation and rage, and when, on arriving before the town, General Douglas sent a messenger to demand its surrender, Colonel Grace, who commanded, only replied by firing a pistol towards him.
Athlone stood on either side of the Shannon. The town on the eastern bank of the river was called "the English town," that on the western "the Irish "—a distinction existing in many of the Irish towns, where the early English settlers found it expedient to live apart from the Irish, for mutual protection against attack. Colonel Grace had retired to the west bank of the river, which was strongly fortified, destroying the English town and breaking down part of the bridge across the river.
The garrison consisted of three regiments of foot and nine troops of horse; and when Douglas erected his batteries and opened fire on the castle, they replied briskly, and their guns got the better of those in the batteries. A strong detachment of horse and mounted grenadiers was sent by Douglas to Lanesborough, some miles north of the town, with orders to pass the river at that point, but the post was held by Irish troops, who easily repulsed the attempt.
It was next proposed to pass the river at a ford a short distance from the bridge; but the troops had little heart for the enterprise, as the ford was covered by field works erected by the Irish.
The assailants were already reduced to considerable straits. They had consumed all provisions found in the town, plundering without mercy the Protestant inhabitants, who had been well treated by the Irish troops, while the conduct of the army effectually deterred the country people from bringing in provisions.
The circulation of the report that General Sarsfield, with fifteen thousand men, was on the march to cut off the besiegers of Athlone, determined General Douglas to make a speedy retreat. In his fear of being cut off, he abandoned all his heavy baggage, and, quitting the high road, made his way by unfrequented routes, which added to the hardships of the march. In its retreat, the column was accompanied by the unhappy Protestant inhabitants, who feared to remain behind, lest the Irish should retaliate upon them the sufferings which had been inflicted upon their countrymen.
In the meantime, the main English army had done but little. In Dublin, a commission had been appointed to examine into and forfeit the lands of all Catholics, and adherents of King James, and having set this machine at work, the king proceeded with his army southward through Carlow, Kilkenny, and Waterford, all of which places surrendered, the garrisons being allowed to march out, with their arms and baggage, to join their main army on the Shannon.
At Waterford, the king received such serious news as to the state of things in England, that he determined to return home. On arriving at Dublin, he was overwhelmed with petitions from the inhabitants, as to the shameful conduct of the troops left in garrison there, especially those of Trelawney's, Schomberg's, and some other regiments of horse, who, the people complained, treated them, although Protestants, far worse than James's Catholic soldiers had done. Inquiry showed these complaints to be well founded, and, finding it impossible to restore order and discipline among them, the king at once sent these regiments back to England.
Then, receiving better news from home, he again started to rejoin his army, and marched towards Limerick, being joined on his way by the division under Douglas, which had driven along with them all the cattle and horses of the country through which they had passed.
Limerick was, at that time, the second city in Ireland. The country, for a long distance along the mouth of the Shannon, was much wooded, but in the immediate vicinity of the town it was surrounded by thick inclosures, houses, orchards, gardens, and plantations. The cultivated land was everywhere divided into small fields, inclosed by hedges and intersected by lanes. To the east of the town the Shannon divides itself, forming an island on which part of the city is situated.
This was called the English town, and was connected by a bridge, called Thomond Bridge, with the Clare side of the river on the north; and on the south, by another bridge, with the Irish town on the county of Limerick side. The Thomond Bridge was defended by a strong fort and some field works on the Clare side, and on the city side by a drawbridge, flanked by towers and the city walls. The bridge was very long and narrow.
The position of the English town was, indeed, almost impregnable. It was built upon a rock of considerable extent, and the land outside the walls was low and marshy, and could at any time be flooded. The Shannon was broad and rapid. The Irish town on the Limerick shore was not strong, being defended only by ordinary walls. If this were captured, however, the English town could still hold out.
The king made his approaches to the city slowly, being obliged to level the numerous inclosures as he moved on. These were occupied by the Irish infantry, who, lining every hedge, kept up a galling fire, falling back gradually as heavy bodies of troops were brought up against them, until they reached the cover of the guns of the city and fort. Upon these opening fire, William's army halted and encamped before the Irish town.
Here, as at the Boyne, the king had a narrow escape, a cannonball from the walls striking the ground at his foot as he was passing through a gap in a hedge.
The king had learned that great dissensions existed between the Irish and French, and relied upon this, as much as upon the strength of his arms, to obtain possession of the city. His information was, indeed, correct. King James, in his flight, had left no orders as to who should assume the supreme command. The Duke of Berwick had considerable claims. Lauzun and the French officers declined altogether to receive orders from Tyrconnell, and the Irish officers equally objected to act under the command of a Frenchman. Consequently, during the whole siege, the main Irish army, which, by acting upon William's rear, could speedily have made his position untenable, remained inactive. Monsieur Boileau, a French officer, was governor of the town, but Lauzun, having examined the fortifications, pronounced the place wholly incapable of defence, declaring that the walls could be knocked down with roasted apples, and so ordered the entire French division to march to Galway, and there await an opportunity for embarking for France, leaving the Irish to defend the city if they chose.
Lauzun, in fact, was a courtier, not a soldier. He desired to get back to Versailles at any hazard, and had so inspired his officers and men with his own sentiments that there was a general cry among them to be recalled to France. They had, indeed, no interest in the cause in which they fought. They looked with contempt at their half-armed and half-trained allies, and they grumbled continually at the hardships which they had to undergo. It was indeed an evil day, for King James's cause, when he exchanged Mountcashel's fine division for these useless allies, who, throughout the war, not only did no service, but were the cause of endless dissension and disaster.
As soon as King William had taken up his position in front of Limerick, he sent a summons to Boileau to surrender. The latter consulted with Tyrconnell, Sarsfield, and some other officers, for, even to the last moment, it was a question whether the place should be defended.
At last, however, a decision was made. The reply was addressed to William's secretary, Sir Robert Roultwell, as Boileau could not acknowledge the prince as king, and was too polite to hurt his feelings by a denial of the royal title. He expressed great surprise at the summons he had received, and said that he hoped to merit the good opinion of the Prince of Orange better by a vigorous defence, than by a shameful surrender, of the fortress which had been committed to his charge by his master King James the Second.
The king's camp was now formed in regular order; he himself taking his place on its right, having near him the Horse Guards, and the Blue Dutch Guards, who were always his main reliance. To the left of these were the English and Dutch regiments, further on the French and Danes, while the Brandenburghers and other German regiments formed the extreme left of the line. To their great satisfaction, the post assigned to the Danes was one of the rude circular redoubts called, in Ireland, Danish forts, and probably constructed by their own far-off ancestors.
Chapter 9: Pleasant Quarters.
After the termination of the short siege of Athlone, the troop of Captain Davenant were despatched to join the army near Limerick, and, on their arrival there, were ordered to take up their quarters at the house of a Protestant gentleman named Conyers, four miles from the town on the Limerick side of the river.
It was a mansion of considerable size, standing in large grounds, for its proprietor was one of the largest landowners in the county of Limerick, his grandfather having been a colonel in one of Cromwell's regiments. Mr. Conyers himself had gone to Dublin, upon the passing of the act sequestrating the property of all the Protestants by James's parliament, to endeavour to obtain a remission of the decree, so far as it concerned his house and adjoining grounds. As he had influential friends there, he had remained, urging his petition, until the battle of the Boyne and the entry of King William into Dublin entirely changed the position. But he then, owing to the disturbance of the country, and the fact that the Irish army had retired to Limerick, found it impossible to return home. He had, however, travelled with William's army, to which he was able to give much useful information regarding the defences, and details of the country round the town.
As Captain Davenant's troop rode up to the house, a lady, with a girl of some sixteen years old, appeared at the door. Both looked very pale, for they feared that the brutal conduct of which they had heard, of William's army, would be followed by reprisals on the part of the Irish. They were somewhat reassured, however, by Captain Davenant's manner as that officer dismounted, raised his hat, and said:
"Madam, I have received orders to quarter my troop in the house, but I am anxious, I can assure you, to cause as little inconvenience and annoyance as possible, under the circumstances."
"We are only women here, sir," Mrs. Conyers said. "The house is at your disposal. I myself and my daughter will move to the gardener's cottage, and I trust that you will give orders to your men that we shall be free from molestation there."
"I could not think of disturbing you in that manner," Captain Davenant said. "I myself have a wife and mother alone at home, and will gladly treat you with the same courtesy which I trust they will receive. Allow me, in the first place, to introduce to you my lieutenant, Mr. O'Moore, and my cornet, who is also my son, Walter. I see that you have extensive stables and outbuildings. I am sure that my men, who are all good fellows, and many of them the sons of farmers, will make themselves very comfortable in these. I myself, and my two officers, will quarter ourselves in the gardener's cottage you speak of."
"You are good, indeed, sir," Mrs. Conyers said gratefully; "but I could not think of allowing you to do that, and shall indeed be pleased, if you and your officers will take up your residence here as my guests."
"I thank you kindly; but that I could not do. My men will be well content with the outhouses, if they see that we are content with the cottage; but they might not be so, if they saw that we took up our quarters in the house. Therefore, if you will allow me, I will carry out my own plan; but I need not say that we shall be very pleased to visit you in the house, at such times as may be agreeable to you."
After expressing their grateful thanks, Mrs. Conyers and her daughter withdrew into the house. Captain Davenant then addressed a few words to his men.
"The house will not hold you all, lads, and there are only ladies here, and I am sure you would not wish to disturb and annoy them by crowding their house. Therefore, I have arranged that you shall take up your quarters in the outhouses, and that we shall occupy a little cottage on the grounds. I hope, lads, that, for the honour of the country and the cause, all will behave as peacefully and quietly as if in our own homes. It would be a poor excuse that, because William's soldiers are behaving like wild beasts, we should forget the respect due to lonely women."
A fortnight was spent here pleasantly for all. The first alarm past, Mrs. Conyers felt safer than she had done for months. Ever since the troubles had began, she had felt the loneliness of her position as a Protestant, and she would have, long before, made her way with her daughter to Dublin, had it not been that she thought that, so long as she continued in the house, it might be respected by the Catholic peasantry, while, were she to desert it, it would probably be plundered, perhaps burned to the ground. Still, the position was a very trying one, especially since the Jacobite army began to gather in force round Limerick.
She now felt that her troubles were comparatively over. The troops caused no annoyance, and she heard but little of them, while she found in Captain Davenant and his officers pleasant guests. The troops, on their part, were well satisfied. Mrs. Conyers gave instructions that they were to be supplied with all they needed, and their rations of bread and meat were supplemented with many little comforts and luxuries from the house.
While Mrs. Conyers entertained the two elder officers, Walter naturally fell to the share of her daughter, and the two soon became great friends, wandering in the grounds, and sometimes riding together when Walter was not engaged with the troop. The news came daily of the movements of William's army, and when it approached, Captain Davenant's troop went far out to observe its movements, and obtain an accurate idea of its strength.
It was late in the evening when they returned, and Captain Davenant said at supper:
"This is our last meal with you, Mrs. Conyers. We leave at daybreak, and a few hours afterwards William's army will arrive before Limerick. We shall be the losers, but you will be the gainer if, as you suppose, Mr. Conyers is with them."
"I shall be really sorry for your going, Captain Davenant. It seemed a terrible thing having a troop of hostile horse quartered upon one; but in reality it has been a pleasant operation, rather than not, and I have felt safer than I have done for months. I do hope that when these troubles are over we shall renew our acquaintance, and that you will give my husband an opportunity of thanking you for the kindness with which you have treated us."
"The thanks should be on my side," Captain Davenant said. "You have made what promised to be an unpleasant duty a most pleasant one. Our stay here has been like a visit at a friend's, and I regret deeply that it has to come to an end, a regret which I am sure Lieutenant O'Moore and my son share."
"We do, indeed," the lieutenant said.
Walter and Claire Conyers said nothing. They had talked it over early that morning before the troop started, and Walter had expressed his deep regret that their pleasant time was at an end; and, although the girl had said little, she was far less bright and happy than might have been expected, considering that upon the following day she should probably see her father.
Captain Davenant's troop rode off at daybreak, kept down the Shannon to Limerick, and, crossing the bridge, entered the city, and received orders there to take up their quarters in a village some four miles up the river. Thus, they were less than a mile distant from Mrs. Conyers' house, although separated from it by the Shannon; and from an eminence near the village, the roof and chimneys of the mansion could be seen rising above the trees by which it was surrounded.
During the day, the sound of the firing before Limerick could be plainly heard; but little attention was paid to it, for it was certain that no attack could be made in earnest upon the town, until the battering artillery came up, and there was but little hope that the cavalry would be called up for any active service at present.
After dinner, Walter strolled out to the eminence, and looked across towards the house where he had spent so happy a time, and wondered whether Mr. Conyers had by this time arrived, and whether, in the pleasure of his coming, all thought of the late visitors had been forgotten. Presently Larry sauntered up, and took a seat on a wall a few paces away. Larry was a general favourite in the troop. He did not ride in its ranks, but accompanied it in the capacity of special servant of Walter, and as general attendant to the three officers.
"We had a good time of it, yer honour," he said presently.
Walter turned round sharply, for he had not heard him approach.
"We had, Larry," he said, with a smile. "We shall find it rougher work now."
"We shall, yer honour.
"I was thinking to myself," he said, confidentially, "that if you might be wanting to send a bit of a letter, it's meself could easily make a boat, with some osiers and the skin of that bullock we had given us for the rations of the troops today."
"Send a letter, Larry! Who should I be sending a letter to?"
"Sure yer honour knows better than me. I thought maybe you would be liking to let the young lady know how we're getting on now, and to find out whether her father has come home, and how things are going. Yer honour will excuse me, but it just seemed natural that you should be wishing to send a line; and a sweeter young lady never trod the sod."
Walter could not help laughing at the gleam of quiet humour in Larry's face.
"I don't know, lad. You have pretty well guessed my thoughts; but it can't be. The opposite bank will be swarming with William's men—it would be a most dangerous business. No, it's not to be thought of."
"Very well, yer honour, it's just as you like; but you have only got to hand me a bit of paper, and give me a wink of your eye, and I will do it. As to William's sodgers, it's little I fear them; and if all one hears of their doings be true, and I had a pretty young creature a mile away from me, with those blackguards round about her, it's anxious I should be for a line from her hand;" and Larry got down from his seat, and began to walk away towards the village.
Walter stood silent for a moment.
"Wait, Larry," he said.
Larry turned, with a look of surprise upon his face.
"Come here," Walter said impatiently. "Of course I am anxious—though I don't know how you could have guessed it."
"Sure yer honour," Larry said with an innocent look, "when a gentleman like yourself is for ever walking and riding with a purty colleen, it don't need much guessing to suppose that you would be worrying after her, with such creatures as the Northerners and the furreners in her neighbourhood."
"And you seriously think you could take a letter across to her, Larry?"
"Sure and I could, yer honour. The nights are dark, and I could get across the river widout a sowl being the wiser, and make my way to the stables, and give it to one of the boys, who will put it in the hands of Bridget, Miss Claire's own maid; and I could go back, next night, for the answer."
"But if you can do it, I can," Walter said.
"What would be the good, yer honour? It's only the outside of the house you would see, and not the young lady. Besides, there's a lot more risk in your doing it than there is with me. You are an officer of the king's, and if you were caught on that side of the river, it's mighty little trial they'd give you before they run you up to the bough of a tree, or put a bullet into you. With me, it's different. I am just a country boy going to see my cousin Pat Ryan, who works in the stables at the house. Pat would give me a character, no fear."
"Well, I will think of it," Walter said.
"And I will get the boat ready at once, your honour. A few sticks and a green hide will make a boat fit for Dublin Bay, to say nothing of crossing a smooth bit of water like this."
After Larry had left him, Walter walked up and down for some time. He had certainly thought, vaguely, that he should like Claire Conyers to know that he was still within sight of her house; but the possibility of sending her word had not occurred to him, until his follower suggested it. Larry's suggestion of possible danger to her made him uneasy. Even if her father was with the king, and had already returned home, he would frequently be absent in the camp, and who could tell but some band of plunderers might visit the house in his absence! The Protestants had been plundered and ill-used by William's men round Athlone, and might be here. It would certainly be well to know what was going on across the water.
After the kindness they had received, surely it would be only civil to let the Conyers know where they were posted. At any rate, Claire could not be offended at his writing; besides, he might arrange some plan by which he might get news from Larry's friend, Pat Ryan.
As he went down to the village he heard roars of laughter, and, passing a cottage, saw Larry with five or six of the troopers round him. Larry was seated on the ground, making a framework in the shape of a saucer four feet in diameter.
"And what are you wanting a boat for, Larry?"
"Sure, I am mighty fond of fishing," Larry said. "Didn't you know that?"
"I know you are a fisherman at home, Larry; but if it's fishing you want, there are two large boats hauled up on the bank."
"They are too big," Larry said. "I should want half a dozen men to launch them, and then you would want to go with me, and the bare sight of you would be enough to frighten away all the fish in the Shannon. But I will have a look at the boats. The captain might want a party to cross the river, and it's as well to see that they are in good order, and have got the oars and thole pins handy. I will see to them myself, for there are not half a dozen of ye know one end of the boat from the other."
When Walter reached his quarters, he at once sat down to write. After many attempts he finished one as follows:
"Dear Miss Conyers:
"After the kindness shown to us by Mrs. Conyers and yourself, I feel sure that you will like to know where we are posted. We are at Ballygan, just across the Shannon opposite to your house, and I can see your roof from a spot fifty yards from the village. It seems a pleasure to me to be so close, even though we are as much divided as if there were the sea between us.
"I hope that Mr. Conyers has returned, and that you will have no trouble with William's troops, whose reputation for good behaviour is not of the best. I hope that, now that you are among your friends, you have not quite forgotten us, and that you will let me have a line to say how you are, and how things are going on with you. My boy Larry is going to take this across, and will call tomorrow night for an answer, if you are good enough to send one."
"When will your boat be finished, Larry?" he asked his follower, as the latter came in, just as it was getting dusk.
"She will be finished tomorrow. The framework is done, and I could make a shift, if your honour wished, just to fasten the skin on so that it would take me tonight."
"If you could, I would rather, Larry."
"All right, your honour!" Larry said, with a slight smile. "Two hours' work will do it."
"I know where you are making it, Larry, and will come round when I go to inspect sentries, at eleven o'clock. We shall post ten men, a quarter of a mile apart, on the bank, and I will give orders for them to look out for you. The word will be 'Wicklow;' so when you come across they will shout to you, 'Who comes there?' You say, 'Wicklow;' and it will be all right."
At the hour he had named, Walter went round for Larry, who was working by the light of a torch stuck in the ground.
"I have just finished it, yer honour; but I was obliged to stop till the boys got quiet; they were so mighty inquisitive as to what I was in such a hurry about, that I had to leave it alone for a while."
"Look here, Larry, here is the letter, but that's not the principal reason why I am sending you across. You will give it to Pat Ryan, as you suggested, to pass on through Bridget to Miss Conyers; but I want you to arrange with him that he shall, tomorrow, get some dry sticks put together on the bank opposite, with some straw, so that he can make a blaze in a minute. Then do you arrange with him that, if any parties of William's troops come to the house in the absence of Mr. Conyers, and there should seem likely to be trouble, he is to run as hard as he can down to the river. If it is day, he is to wave a white cloth on a stick. If it is night, he is to light the fire. Tell him to arrange with Bridget to run at once to him and tell him, if there is trouble in the house, for, as he is in the stables, he may not know what is going on inside.
"I have been looking at those boats. They will carry fifteen men each at a pinch; and if the signal is made, we shall not be long in getting across. Pat would only have about half a mile to run. We will get the boats down close to the water's edge, and it won't take us many minutes to get across. Anyhow, in twenty minutes from the time he starts, we might be there."
"That will be a moighty good plan, yer honour. Now, if you will go down to the water with me, I will be off at once. I sha'n't be away half an hour; and I can slip up into the loft where Pat sleeps, and not a sowl be the wiser, if there was a regiment of William's troops about the house."
"All right, Larry! I shall wait here for you till you get back."
Larry raised the light craft and put it on his head. He had made a couple of light paddles, by nailing two pieces of wood on to mop sticks.
Walter accompanied him to the water's edge, and told the sentry there that Larry was crossing the river on business, and would return in half an hour's time, and that he was not to challenge loudly when he saw him returning.
The night was dark, and Walter soon lost sight of the little boat. Then he waited anxiously. He had, however, but little fear that the enemy would have posted sentries so far down the river, especially as he would only just have pitched his camp opposite Limerick.
It was three-quarters of an hour before he heard a faint splash in the water. The sentry heard it, too.
"Shall I challenge, sir?"
"No. Wait for a minute. We shall soon see whether it is Larry. Should there be anyone on the opposite bank, he might hear the challenge, and they would keep a sharp lookout in future."