When news of De la Hay’s coming was brought to the peasants, they sent away all the country people, women, and children, and began to discuss the situation. They had no commander, for although Cavalier had led them generally, he had no authority to do so. Everything was voluntary, and everything a subject of debate. On this occasion many thought it best to retreat at once, as there were less than two hundred of them; but Cavalier declared that if they would follow him, he would lead them to a place where victory might be won. They consented, and he advanced to a point on the road where he could shelter his men. Quickly disposing them in line of battle behind some defences, he awaited the coming of the enemy.
De la Hay, being over-confident because of his superior numbers, blundered at the outset. Instead of attacking first with his infantry, he placed his horsemen in front, and ordered an assault. Cavalier was quick to take advantage of this blunder. He ordered only a few of his men to fire, and this drew a volley from the advancing horsemen, which did little damage to the sheltered troops, but emptied the horsemen’s weapons. Instantly Cavalier ordered a charge and a volley, and the horsemen, with empty pistols, gave way, Cavalier pursuing them. De la Hay’s infantry, being just behind the horsemen, were ridden down by their own friends, and became confused and panic-stricken. Cavalier pursued hotly, his men throwing off their coats to lighten themselves, and giving the enemy no time to rally. A reinforcement two hundred strong, coming up, tried to check Cavalier’s charge; but so impetuous was the onset that those fresh troops gave way in their turn, and the chase ended only when the king’s men had shut themselves up in the fortified towns. Cavalier had lost only five or six men, the enemy losing a hundred killed and many more wounded. Cavalier captured a large quantity of arms and ammunition, of which he was in sore need.
When the battle was over it was decided unanimously to make Cavalier the commander. He refused, however, to accept the responsibility unless it could be accompanied with power to enforce obedience, and his troops at once voted to make his authority absolute, even to the decision of questions of life and death. According to the best authorities, Cavalier was only seventeen years old when this absolute command was conferred upon him. How skilfully he used the scant means at his disposal we shall see hereafter.
On one occasion Cavalier attacked a party of forty men who were marching through the country to reinforce a distant post, and killed most of them. While searching the dead bodies, he found in the pocket of the commanding officer an order signed by Count Broglio, the king’s lieutenant, directing all military officers and town authorities to lodge and feed the party on their march. No sooner had the boy soldier read this paper than he resolved to turn it to his own advantage in a daring and dangerous way.
The castle of Servas, near Alais, had long been a source of trouble to him. It was a strong place, built upon a steep hill, and was so difficult of approach that it would have been madness to try to take it by force. This castle stood right in the line of Cavalier’s communications with his friends, near a road which he was frequently obliged to pass, and its presence there was a source of annoyance and danger to him. Moreover, its garrison of about forty men were constantly plundering and murdering Cavalier’s friends in the country round about, and giving timely notice to his enemies of his own military movements.
When he found the order referred to, he resolved to pretend that he was Count Broglio’s nephew, the dead commander of the detachment which he had just destroyed. Dressing himself in that officer’s clothes, he ordered his men to put on the clothing of the other dead royalists. Then he took six of his best men, with their own Camisard uniforms on, and bound them with ropes, to represent prisoners. One of them had been wounded in the arm, and his bloody sleeve helped the stratagem. Putting these six men at the head of his troop, with a guard of their disguised comrades over them, he marched towards the Castle of Servas. There he declared himself to be Count Broglio’s nephew, and said that he had met a company of the Barbets, or Camisards, and had defeated them, taking six prisoners; that he was afraid to keep these prisoners in the village overnight lest their friends should rescue them; and that he wished to lodge them in the castle for safety. When the governor of the castle heard this story, and saw the order of Count Broglio, he was completely imposed upon. He ordered the prisoners to be brought into the castle, and invited Cavalier to be his guest there for the night. Taking two of his officers with him, Cavalier went into the castle to sup with the governor. During supper several of his soldiers, who were encamped just outside, went into the castle upon pretence of getting wine or bread, and when five or six of them were in, at a signal from Cavalier, they overpowered the sentinels and threw the gates open. The rest of the troop rushed in at once, and before the garrison could seize their arms the boy commander was master of the fortress. He put the garrison to the sword, and, hastily collecting all the arms, ammunition, and provisions he could find, set fire to the castle and marched away. When the fire reached the powder magazine the whole fortress was blown to fragments, and a post which had long annoyed and endangered the Camisards was no more.