At the siege of one of the strong towns in Flanders, during the wars of Louis XIV., it was necessary to reconnoitre the point of attack. The danger was great, and a hundred louis were promised to any one who would undertake it. Several of the bravest of the soldiers appeared indifferent to the offer, when a young man stepped forward to undertake the task; he left the detachment, and remained absent a long time; he was thought killed. While the officers were deploring his fate, he returned, and gained their admiration no less by the precision than the sang froid of his recital. The hundred louis were immediately presented to him. "Vous vous moquez de moi, mon général," was his reply; "va-t-on là pour de l'argent."—[You are jesting with me, general; one does not perform such actions for money.]
Louis IX., after his captivity among the Saracens, was, with his queen and children, nearly shipwrecked on his return to France, some of the planks of the vessel having started. He was pressed to go on board another ship, and so escape the danger, but he refused, saying, "Those that are with me, most assuredly are as fond of their lives as I can be of mine. If I quit the ship, they will likewise quit it; and the vessel not being large enough to receive them, they will all perish. I had rather entrust my life, and the lives of my wife and children, in the hands of God, than be the occasion of making so many of my brave subjects suffer."
Sir Phelim O'Neil, one of the leaders in the Irish rebellion of 1641, while in prison, previous to his trial, was frequently solicited, by promises of a free pardon, and large rewards, to bear testimony that the king (Charles the First) had been actively instrumental in stirring up that rebellion. It was one of the arts of the factions of that period to throw the odium of the massacre which followed the Irish rebellion upon Charles; but whatever may have been the political sins of that unhappy prince, impartial history has not ranked this among the number. Sir Phelim declared, that he could not, in conscience, charge the king with any thing of the kind. His trial was drawn out to the length of several days, that he might be worked upon in that time; but he persisted with constancy and firmness in rejecting every offer made to him by the commissioners. Even at the place of execution, the most splendid advantages were pressed upon him, upon the condition of falsely accusing King Charles in that point. Men saw with admiration this unfortunate chieftain under all the terrors of death, and the strongest temptations man could be under, bravely attesting the king's innocence, and sealing the truth of his testimony with his blood. When on the ladder, and ready to be thrown off, two marshals came riding in great haste, and cried aloud, "Stop a little." Having passed through the, crowd of spectators and guards, one of them whispered something into the ear of Sir Phelim, who made answer in so loud a voice, as to be heard by several hundreds of the people. "I thank the lieutenant-general for the intended mercy; but I declare, good people, before God and his holy angels, and all of you that hear me, that I never had any commission from the king for what I have done, in levying, or in prosecuting this war; and do heartily beg your prayers, all good Catholics and Christians! that God may be merciful unto me, and forgive me my sins." On this the guards beat off those that stood near the place of execution, and in a few minutes Sir Phelim was no more.
The town of Bresse having revolted against the French, was attacked, taken, and sacked, with an almost unexampled fury. The chevalier Bayard, who was wounded at the beginning of the action, was carried to the house of a person of quality, whom he protected from the fury of the conquerors, by placing at the door two soldiers, whom he indemnified with a gift of eight hundred crowns, in lieu of the plunder they might have lost by their attendance at the door. The impatience of Bayard to join the army without considering the state of his wound, which was by no means well, determined him to depart. The mistress of the house then threw herself at his feet, saying, "The rights of war make you master of our lives and our possessions, and you have saved our honour. We hope, however, from your accustomed generosity that you will not treat us with severity, and that you will be pleased to content yourself with a present more adapted to our circumstances, than to our inclinations." At the same time, she presented him with a small box full of ducats.
Bayard, smiling, asked her how many ducats the box contained. "Two thousand five hundred, my lord," answered the lady, with much emotion; "but if these will not satisfy you, we will employ all our means to raise more."—"No, madam," replied the chevalier, "I do not want money: the care you have taken of me more than repays the services I have done you. I ask nothing but your friendship; and I conjure you to accept of mine."
So singular an instance of generosity gave the lady more surprise than joy. She again threw herself at the feet of the chevalier, and protested that she would never rise until he had accepted of that mark of her gratitude. "Since you will have it so," replied Bayard, "I will not refuse it; but may I not have the honour to salute your amiable daughters?" The young ladies soon entered, and Bayard thanked them for their kindness in enlivening him with their company. "I should be glad," said he, "to have it in my power to convince you of my gratitude; but we soldiers are seldom possessed of jewels worthy the acceptance of your sex. Your amiable mother has presented me with two thousand five hundred ducats; I make a present to each of you of one thousand, for a part of your marriage portion. The remaining five hundred I give to the poor sufferers of this town, and I beg you will take on yourselves the distribution."
One of the finest actions of a soldier of which history makes mention, is related in the history of the Marechal de Luxemburg. The marechal, then Count de Boutteville, served in the army of Flanders in 1675, under the command of the Prince of Condé. He perceived in a march some soldiers that were separated from the main body, and he sent one of his aides-de-camp to bring them back to their colours. All obeyed, except one, who continued his road. The count, highly offended at such disobedience, threatened to strike him with his stick. "That you may do," said the soldier, with great coolness, "but you will repent of it." Irritated by this answer, Boutteville struck him, and forced him to rejoin his corps. Fifteen days after, the army besieged Furnes; and Boutteville commanded the colonel of a regiment to find a man steady and intrepid for a coup-de-main, which he wanted, promising a hundred pistoles as a reward. The soldier in question, who had the character of being the bravest man in the regiment, presented himself, and taking thirty of his comrades, of whom he had the choice, he executed his commission, which was of the most hazardous nature, with a courage and success beyond all praise. On his return, Boutteville, after having praised him highly, counted out the hundred pistoles he had promised. The soldier immediately distributed them to his comrades, saying, that he had no occasion for money; and requested that if what he had done merited any recompense, he might be made an officer. Then addressing himself to the count, he asked if he recognised him? and on Boutteville replying in the negative, "Well," said he, "I am the soldier whom you struck on our march fifteen days ago. Was I not right when I said that you would repent of it?" The Count de Boutteville, filled with admiration, and affected almost to tears, embraced the soldier, created him an officer on the spot, and soon made him one of his aides-de-camp.