The speaker had just pushed his horse over the brow of a slope which he and his servant had for some time been mounting, through the steamy warmth of a foggy May morning. The thick haze which lay heavy in this region of marshy ground had hidden the surrounding country from them hitherto; but as they reached the summit of the gradual rise they had been ascending, the cloud wreaths suddenly drifted away, and the sun began to shine out upon the undulating plain stretched before their eyes; and lo, the plain was alive with squadrons of soldiers—infantry, cavalry, artillery—drawn up in battle array; and the note of the bugle rang through the air, whilst away in the distance, on the opposite side of the plain, there was a movement which told that already the battle had begun. A sullen roar from the guns boomed forth, and the whole plain shook with the reverberation. Great masses of smoke rolled along and slowly dispersed after each salvo; but it was upon the evolutions of the bodies of horsemen and footmen that the keen eyes of the youthful traveller were intently fixed.
"Dicon," he cried, "this is in all sooth a battle; and where the battle rages, there will the great victor of Blenheim be. We have not chanced upon this route in vain. Men warned us of the perils of seeking passage through a country which has become the theatre of war; but fortune's star has befriended us thus far, and now, if I mistake me not, we stand within sight of the greatest warrior of the age. For greatly shall I be astonished if the Duke of Marlborough himself be not conducting the evolutions of yonder squadrons."
The brilliant dark eyes of the young man lighted with a great glow of excitement and admiration. He shaded them with his hand, and intently followed the evolutions of the moving masses in the plain stretched before his eyes. He was looking upon the village of Tavières and the mound of Ottomond, and the waters of the Mehaign rolled below at his feet. The right wing of the French army rested here, as he quickly saw; but for the moment the main activity lay over in the distance beyond Ramillies and Offuz, in the direction of Anderkirk. Yet as the traveller stood intently gazing, he saw a movement in the line of the allied army on this nearer side, and he exclaimed aloud in his excitement,—
"See, Dicon, see! That attack yonder is but a feint. The key of the position lies here beneath us at Tavières, with its Tomb of Ottomond. See yonder those regiments of marching soldiers creeping round beneath the shelter of that rising ground! They will fling themselves upon the enemy's right, whilst the French general is diverting his available forces to protect his left. Villeroi, my friend, you did not well to dispose your forces in concave lines. You lose time in passing from place to place; and with such a general as our English Duke pitted against you, you cannot afford to lose any point in the game. Ha! See that? The Dutch and English soldiers are charging down upon Tavières! Watch how they come on—a great resistless tide of well-drilled veterans. See how they sweep all before them! See how the French fly forth! Ha, Villeroi, what think you now? Yes, you see your error; fain would you hurry back your reserves from left to right. But the time has gone by. They are miles away, and here are the Allies carrying all before them! Hurrah for old England! hurrah for the great Duke! Dicon, have you stomach for the fight? Do you remember Barcelona and Mountjuich? If we were men enough to help there, why not here too?"