“There come some chasseurs on a foraging expedition,” observed the young officer, pointing toward a body of horsemen that was approaching across the green plain.
And, judging from the appearance of the riders, he was right; for the Volons, in order to deceive the Frenchmen, were bringing with them a couple of loaded hay-wagons, which they were dragging through the middle of the highway.
While yet a considerable distance away from the approaching chasseurs, the postilions began to blow their horns for a clear way.
The hay-wagons were turned, in obedience to the signal, but, in turning, the second one ran into the one in advance with such force that the pole was broken clean off.
In front of the barricade thus formed Vavel halted his men, and commanded them to throw off their French cloaks and helmets. In a second the order was obeyed; the crimson shakos with their grim death-heads were donned, and the troop dashed forward upon the escort accompanying the coach.
The astonished cuirassiers, who were wholly unprepared for the assault, were soon overpowered by the Volons, who also outnumbered them.
The youthful leader had at once placed himself in front of the coach, ready for combat with the leader of the attacking foe, and Vavel was obliged to exercise all his skill to disarm without injuring him.
At the moment when the young French champion’s sword flew from his hand, the younger lady, forgetting all ceremony, cried in terror:
“Oh mon Dieu, ne tuez pas Arthur!”
Ludwig Vavel turned toward her, bowed courteously, and said in Talma’s most exquisite French:
“Do not be alarmed, ladies. You are perfectly safe. We are Hungarian gentlemen!”
“But what do you want of us?” demanded the elder lady, haughtily surveying the count. “What business have we with you? We do not belong to the combatants.”
“I will tell this brave young chevalier what I want,” replied Vavel, turning toward the youthful leader. “First, let me restore your sword, monsieur. You handle it admirably, only you need to grasp it more firmly. Then, let me beg of you to mount your horse—a beautiful animal! And third, I beg you to ride as quickly as possible to Raab, and give General Guillaume this message: ’I, Count Vavel de Versay, have this day taken captive the wife and daughter of General Guillaume. The general holds as prisoners my betrothed wife, Countess Themire Dealba, and my adopted daughter, Sophie Botta, or, if he prefers, la Princess Marie. I demand my loved ones in exchange for Madame and Mademoiselle Guillaume.’ I have no further demands, monsieur, and the sooner you return the better. I shall await you in yonder redoubt, where you see the church-steeple. Adieu.”
The younger lady, with hands clasped pleadingly, mutely besought the youthful officer to assent. As if he would not do everything in his power to urge the general to consent to the exchange! The young Frenchman galloped down the road toward Raab. Count Vavel took his place beside the coach, and ordered the postilions to drive to Boercs. At first, the general’s wife heaped reproaches on her captor.