The Siege of Oudenarde by Emily J. Brontë

Outside the walls of Oudenarde was camped an army of 30,000 Ghents; within, the garrison was weak in numbers but strong in that spirit of noble dedication which equally inspires the true patriot and the martyr. Even the women, that class condemned by the laws of society to be a heavy burden in any situation of action and danger, on that occasion cast aside their degrading privileges, and took a distinguished part in the work of defense. Still there was one heart, among those men so brave and faithful, one traitor’s soul low enough to weigh a handful of gold in the balance against the independence of his country. That wretch found the means to seize the two sons of Commander Lalaing, and he delivered them to the enemy at a moment when its patience was starting to run out and its energy to weaken. The Ghents, joyful at this. prize, led the children within sight of their father and announced that either the town must surrender at once, or the boys would die. It rested with Lalaing to pronounce the sentence; his refusal would be the signal for their death. The commander regarded his sons, whose eyes, filled with tears, implored his help. At their side he saw the soldiers armed with glaives who would end their days. For a moment he hesitated; nature wrestled strongly with honor; his breast swelled with a terrible emotion. But finally the patriot subdued the father; he turned to face the Ghents: "Take," said he, "the life of these poor children. I cannot weigh it against the liberty of my country, and as for their souls, I entrust them to God. My sentence is pronounced."

The enemy, struck by this response, recoiled from a useless crime. A short time after, help arrived and Oudenarde was saved.

In this act, the Flemish general appears as great as the greatest [most vaunted] heroes that history has preserved for our admiration, the men who could leap with Martius Curtius into a living tomb are more numerous than those who, like Lalaing, could sacrifice the tenderest affections of the heart for the love of their country.

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