GUERILLA TACTICS

The Duc de Mercœur defeats Hassan Pasha and Alba Regalis is
secure–Meldritch carries the war into Transylvania–The advance
against Regall–The troops are constantly attacked on the march–Captain
Smith treats the Turks to a surprise–He proposes a scheme for
counteracting the night attacks–Five hundred Turks are entrapped and
cut up–Clearing the mountain road to Regall–The army gains the summit
and encamps–The Turks issue a challenge to single combat–The Christian
captains draw lots for the honor of representing the army–“John Smith,
the Englander, is our champion”–John gives Prince Moyses proof of his
skill with the lance.

Despite their superior numbers, the Turks forebore from renewing the
battle on the day following the desperate struggle that was described
in the last chapter. The Christians completely exhausted and many of
them, like Captain Smith, sorely wounded, were only too glad of the
respite. Thus the contending armies lay in sight of each other for
days without action on either side. At length the Duc de Mercœur saw a
favorable opportunity for attacking and did so with such effect that
Hassan Pasha, after losing six thousand men in this later battle,
retired from the field and retreated to Buda.

Relieved of present anxiety on the score of Alba Regalis, Mercœur
divided his army into three bodies and despatched them in different
directions. One corps, under the command of the Earl of Meldritch, was
assigned to service in Transylvania. Our hero recovered sufficiently
to accompany his regiment which as we know could have ill-spared so
good a man. The winter had set in before the command arrived at its
destination, and the Earl went into camp to recruit his depleted
regiments and prepare for the ensuing campaign. The regiment of
Meldritch, which had recently added so greatly to its renown, had no
difficulty in getting all the picked men it needed and in a few weeks
had regained its full strength.

With the opening of spring, Count Meldritch led his army into the
wildest portion of Transylvania and began a vigorous campaign. The
object was to clear the Turks off the plains and to take their chief
stronghold, Regall, in the mountains of Zarham. The entire country was
of the most rugged character and it had been for years the resort of
Turks, Tartars and bandits of all nations. From this wild retreat they
issued at favorable intervals and overran the neighboring valleys,
destroying villages and carrying off their inhabitants into slavery.

The fighting which Captain Smith and his companions in arms now
experienced was the most difficult known to warfare. It called
for courage and patience, strength and quick-wittedness in an
extraordinary degree. Though he could not have suspected it at the
time, the training our hero received in this campaign was the best
possible to fit him for success in his future career among the Indians
of North America, and many a lesson that he learned in Transylvania was
turned to good account in Virginia.

During their march through the province of Zarham, the army of
Meldritch never encountered troops in mass or in open combat, but were
surrounded day and night by a foe invisible for the most part and
appearing, when he did, in the most unexpected places. The road was
through a country that afforded ample cover and ambuscades were of
frequent occurrence. From the shelter of a wood or from behind a hill,
a band of horsemen would dart upon the column with the swoop of a hawk,
spear the nearest foot soldiers, and disappear in the twinkling of an
eye. These attacks were usually made in the uncertain light of the
evening, when the Christians could not effectively use their pistols.
Some half a dozen such onslaughts had been made with complete success
when it occurred to Captain Smith that the dusk which favored the
attack might be made an aid in repelling it. His plan was suggested to
the commander and with his approval was put into effect. It was ordered
that on the following day the column should march with two ranks of
men-at-arms on either flank, concealing a number of horsemen on foot
leading their chargers.

As the light began to fail the Christian army approached a point where
their progress would take them between a rocky eminence and a thick
coppice. It was just such a place as the guerillas would choose for
an ambush and every one was on the lookout for the expected attack.
They were not long in suspense. As they passed the two natural hiding
places, Turks dashed out on either side and charged upon the Christians
with a shout. But before they could reach their intended victims, the
concealed horsemen had leapt into the saddle and riding out between the
files of foot soldiers charged the oncoming enemy at full speed. The
crash as they came together was terrific and the lighter Arab horses
of the Turks were bowled over like skittles by the heavy chargers
of Meldritch’s men. The surprised Turks were readily slain as they
lay upon the ground or turned to flee. Very few escaped, whilst the
Christians returned to their ranks without the loss of a man. After
this decisive turning of the tables upon them, the Ottomans contented
themselves with picking off stragglers and casting spears from a
tolerably safe distance.

More trying, however, than the ambuscades were the night attacks, for
they not only occasioned serious loss of life, but, by robbing the
troops of much needed rest and keeping their nerves upon the rack,
threatened the demoralization of the entire army. Night after night
the Turks rushed the camp, cutting the tent ropes and stabbing the
struggling soldiers under the canvas. The Earl of Meldritch was deeply
concerned about these night attacks. He knew that unless they were
checked his army could never reach the passes of Regall, much less
effect the difficult task of taking the city. The general and his
leading officers had several consultations on the subject but without
arriving at a satisfactory conclusion. One-half of the force might have
been employed to guard the other whilst it slept, but the day’s march
was so arduous that by nightfall few of the men were fit to stand.

In this dilemma, the young Englishman, who had already done such good
service for the army, came to the relief of his general with one of
those practical schemes which he seemed to be ever ready to devise in
an emergency. Following Captain Smith’s suggestion, the Earl ordered
that on the following night the camp should be pitched in a spot that
would invite an attack by the enemy. The tents were to be erected as
usual but the three front rows were to be empty. Behind these were
firmly-stretched ropes at a height of about two feet from the ground
and extending right across the camp. Beyond the ropes was left a clear
space of twenty yards and along the farther side of this was drawn up,
after dark, a body of one thousand picked men.

The lights of the camp were out and the army was apparently sunk in
slumber, when a large force of Turks galloped in among the tents and
charged forward with their battle-cry of “Allah! Allah ud Din!” (God
and the Faith!) They expected an easy slaughter and escape with little
loss but this time things were to fall out differently. The leading
ranks of the Turks were in full career when they came upon the hidden
ropes, and as their horses struck them they pitched forward upon their
heads, throwing their riders at the very feet of the Christians waiting
with sword in hand to dispatch them. Rank after rank of the Turks rode
into the trap and fell atop of one another in a shrieking, struggling
mass. Meanwhile Meldritch’s men-at-arms stabbed and hewed with might
and main, slaughtering their enemies with a fury excited by the
recollection of their nameless cruelties. By the time the less advanced
of the Turkish horsemen, realizing that they were entrapped, had turned
about, they found themselves face to face with a cordon of Meldritch’s
cavalry which completely cut off their retreat. In the end the entire
body, numbering about five hundred, was slain. In those days prisoners
were seldom taken in wars with infidels, and it was not often that the
fanatical Turks would ask quarter of the unbeliever.

After this affair the march was resumed with very little interference
on the part of the enemy until the mountains of Zarham were reached.
Here began the most difficult part of the military operation. Regall
was situated in a small table-land which formed the crest of an
isolated mountain. It was approachable only on one side and there the
ascent must be made by a rough and narrow path. It is no wonder that
the Turks deemed Regall impregnable and entrusted their women and
their treasures to the security of its position. The city had never
been taken and it is doubtful whether it would have fallen to a less
determined and able body of men than the veterans under Meldritch.

A picked force was chosen to form the advance guard and John, in
consideration of his recent services, was permitted to take his place
in it. The work of this body was to clear and hold the road up the
mountain which was defended by the Turks with the utmost obstinacy.
Every foot of the way was contested and the advance guard lost a large
proportion of its number, but at last it gained the top. The main
body of the army and the big guns then made the ascent. When, after
the weary weeks of fighting and marching, Meldritch’s division camped
in sight of the gates of Regall it had dwindled to fewer than eight
thousand men.

The city was garrisoned by twenty thousand Turks and had an ample
supply of provisions. Under these conditions the Earl entertained no
thought of attacking it but wisely contented himself with entrenching
his position and repelling the frequent sorties of the besieged. In a
few days Prince Moyses arrived with a reinforcement of nine thousand
men and took over the chief command. The Christian army now proceeded
to construct approaches to the city and to mount their guns in
commanding positions.

This work of preparation, which was performed with careful deliberation,
consumed several weeks, and the delay tended to encourage the garrison.
They foolishly attributed it to timidity and began to display contempt
for the beleaguering army. They paraded upon the ramparts effigies of
Christians hanging from gallows and shouted derisive messages to the
besiegers. At length this over-confidence of the Turks took a form that
afforded the besiegers a chance to prove that they were still awake and
prepared for action.

One day a messenger from the city was admitted to the presence of
Prince Moyses under a flag of truce. He was the bearer of a lengthy
document couched in pompous language which, after reproaching the
Christians for the lack of exercise that was making them fat and timid,
expressed a fear that they would depart from the city without affording
any pastime to the ladies of it. That this might not be, Tur Pasha,
a Turkish general, challenged to single combat any champion whom the
Christian army might put forward. The combat was to be fought after
the fashion of knightly times, with which the Turks had become familiar
during the Crusades, and the head of the vanquished, together with
everything brought into the field by him, should become the property of
the victor.

The challenge was received with delight in the Christian army and as
soon as it became known scores of captains pressed forward for the
privilege of accepting it. In order to avoid jealousy and discontent
by singling one out of so many brave men, the commander determined to
decide the question by casting lots. Young John Smith was among the
most eager candidates for the honor of representing the army and his
name and those of the others were written upon scraps of paper and
shaken up in a helmet. It was a breathless moment when Prince Moyses
thrust his hand into the casque and drew forth the billet upon which
his fingers closed.

“John Smith, the Englander, is our champion,” he announced to the
throng, with a shade of disappointment in his voice. He had hoped that
the honor might fall to one of his own countrymen and, although Count
Meldritch had spoken with warmth of John’s courage and prowess, the
Prince felt doubtful of the ability of a mere stripling to defeat an
experienced warrior.

As John was about to go to his tent, his heart full of joy at the
wonderful good fortune that had befallen him, Prince Moyses beckoned
him to his side. It was in the mind of the general to ask Smith to
waive his right in favor of some older and better tried captain, but
the first glance at the young man’s eager face convinced his commander
that it would be useless to pursue the purpose. Instead he inquired
whether Smith’s horse and equipment were all that he could desire and
what weapons he would choose, having as the challenged the right of
selection. John replied that his horse had proved itself a trusty beast
in many a sharp skirmish since the battle of Girkhe and for the weapon,
he would name the lance in the handling of which he feared not to pit
himself against any mortal man.

As he made this truthful but, nevertheless, somewhat boastful
statement, John fancied that he detected a faint smile flickering about
the corners of the Prince’s mouth. He flushed at the thought that his
general might be inwardly laughing at his pretensions, and said, with
some show of heat:

“May it please your Highness to give me leave to prove my quality with
the lance?”

The Prince gravely assented to the proposal and a soldier was
dispatched to fetch the young captain’s horse and tilting lance. In
the few minutes that elapsed before his return, our hero’s thoughts
strayed to the period of his hermitage in the Lincolnshire forest and
he congratulated himself on the time then spent in the practice of a
weapon that was fast falling into disuse.

Hard by the commander’s tent stood a convenient tree. From one of its
branches a soldier was instructed to suspend an iron ring, no bigger
than a dollar piece, at the height of a mounted man’s head. When this
had been done, John, who was already mounted, took his lance from the
attendant soldier and placing it in rest, bore down upon the mark at
full tilt. When he wheeled round and saluted Prince Moyses, the ring
was upon the point of his lance.

“Bravissimo!” cried the Prince with a smile of satisfaction. “I had not
thought to see that feat performed in this day,” he added as he turned
on his heel and entered the tent.