The Adventures of Gerard
Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 2 out of 4
Something seemed to take me by the throat and choke me. And then
in an instant Olivier's arms were round me, Pelletan had seized
me by the right hand, Mortier by the left, some were patting me
on the shoulder, some were clapping me on the back, on every side
smiling faces were looking into mine; and so it was that I knew
that I had won my footing in the Hussars of Conflans.
How the Brigadier Slew the Fox[*]
[*] This story, already published in The Green Flag, is included
here so that all of the Brigadier Gerard stories may appear
In all the great hosts of France there was only one officer
toward whom the English of Wellington's Army retained a deep,
steady, and unchangeable hatred.
There were plunderers among the French, and men of violence,
gamblers, duellists, and roues. All these could be forgiven, for
others of their kidney were to be found among the ranks of the
English. But one officer of Massena's force had committed a
crime which was unspeakable, unheard of, abominable; only to be
alluded to with curses late in the evening, when a second bottle
had loosened the tongues of men. The news of it was carried back
to England, and country gentlemen who knew little of the details
of the war grew crimson with passion when they heard of it, and
yeomen of the shires raised freckled fists to Heaven and swore.
And yet who should be the doer of this dreadful deed but our
friend the Brigadier, Etienne Gerard, of the Hussars of Conflans,
gay-riding, plume-tossing, debonair, the darling of the ladies
and of the six brigades of light cavalry.
But the strange part of it is that this gallant gentleman did
this hateful thing, and made himself the most unpopular man in
the Peninsula, without ever knowing that he had done a crime for
which there is hardly a name amid all the resources of our
language. He died of old age, and never once in that
imperturbable self- confidence which adorned or disfigured his
character knew that so many thousand Englishmen would gladly have
hanged him with their own hands. On the contrary, he numbered
this adventure among those other exploits which he has given to
the world, and many a time he chuckled and hugged himself as he
narrated it to the eager circle who gathered round him in that
humble cafe where, between his dinner and his dominoes, he would
tell, amid tears and laughter, of that inconceivable Napoleonic
past when France, like an angel of wrath, rose up, splendid and
terrible, before a cowering continent. Let us listen to him as
he tells the story in his own way and from his own point of view.
You must know, my friends, said he, that it was toward the end of
the year eighteen hundred and ten that I and Massena and the
others pushed Wellington backward until we had hoped to drive him
and his army into the Tagus. But when we were still twenty-five
miles from Lisbon we found that we were betrayed, for what had
this Englishman done but build an enormous line of works and
forts at a place called Torres Vedras, so that even we were
unable to get through them! They lay across the whole Peninsula,
and our army was so far from home that we did not dare to risk a
reverse, and we had already learned at Busaco that it was no
child's play to fight against these people. What could we do,
then, but sit down in front of these lines and blockade them to
the best of our power? There we remained for six months, amid
such anxieties that Massena said afterward that he had not one
hair which was not white upon his body.
For my own part, I did not worry much about our situation, but I
looked after our horses, who were in much need of rest and green
fodder. For the rest, we drank the wine of the country and
passed the time as best we might. There was a lady at
Santarem--but my lips are sealed. It is the part of a gallant
man to say nothing, though he may indicate that he could say a
One day Massena sent for me, and I found him in his tent with a
great plan pinned upon the table. He looked at me in silence
with that single piercing eye of his, and I felt by his
expression that the matter was serious. He was nervous and ill
at ease, but my bearing seemed to reassure him. It is good to be
in contact with brave men.
"Colonel Etienne Gerard," said he, "I have always heard that you
are a very gallant and enterprising officer."
It was not for me to confirm such a report, and yet it would be
folly to deny it, so I clinked my spurs together and saluted.
"You are also an excellent rider."
I admitted it.
"And the best swordsman in the six brigades of light cavalry."
Massena was famous for the accuracy of his information.
"Now," said he, "if you will look at this plan you will have no
difficulty in understanding what it is that I wish you to do.
These are the lines of Torres Vedras. You will perceive that
they cover a vast space, and you will realise that the English
can only hold a position here and there. Once through the lines
you have twenty-five miles of open country which lie between them
and Lisbon. It is very important to me to learn how Wellington's
troops are distributed throughout that space, and it is my wish
that you should go and ascertain."
His words turned me cold.
"Sir," said I, "it is impossible that a colonel of light cavalry
should condescend to act as a spy."
He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder.
"You would not be a Hussar if you were not a hot- head," said he.
"If you will listen you will understand that I have not asked you
to act as a spy. What do you think of that horse?"
He had conducted me to the opening of his tent, and there was a
chasseur who led up and down a most admirable creature. He was a
dapple grey, not very tall, a little over fifteen hands perhaps,
but with the short head and splendid arch of the neck which comes
with the Arab blood. His shoulders and haunches were so
muscular, and yet his legs so fine, that it thrilled me with joy
just to gaze upon him. A fine horse or a beautiful woman--I
cannot look at them unmoved, even now when seventy winters have
chilled my blood. You can think how it was in the year '10.
"This," said Massena, "is Voltigeur, the swiftest horse in our
army. What I desire is that you should start tonight, ride round
the lines upon the flank, make your way across the enemy's rear,
and return upon the other flank, bringing me news of his
disposition. You will wear a uniform, and will, therefore, if
captured, be safe from the death of a spy. It is probable that
you will get through the lines unchallenged, for the posts are
very scattered. Once through, in daylight you can outride
anything which you meet, and if you keep off the roads you may
escape entirely unnoticed. If you have not reported yourself by
to-morrow night, I will understand that you are taken, and I will
offer them Colonel Petrie in exchange."
Ah, how my heart swelled with pride and joy as I sprang into the
saddle and galloped this grand horse up and down to show the
Marshal the mastery which I had of him! He was magnificent--we
were both magnificent, for Massena clapped his hands and cried
out in his delight.
It was not I, but he, who said that a gallant beast deserves a
gallant rider. Then, when for the third time, with my panache
flying and my dolman streaming behind me, I thundered past him, I
saw upon his hard old face that he had no longer any doubt that
he had chosen the man for his purpose. I drew my sabre, raised
the hilt to my lips in salute, and galloped on to my own
Already the news had spread that I had been chosen for a mission,
and my little rascals came swarming out of their tents to cheer
me. Ah! it brings the tears to my old eyes when I think how
proud they were of their Colonel.
And I was proud of them also. They deserved a dashing leader.
The night promised to be a stormy one, which was very much to my
liking. It was my desire to keep my departure most secret, for
it was evident that if the English heard that I had been detached
from the army they would naturally conclude that something
important was about to happen. My horse was taken, therefore,
beyond the picket line, as if for watering, and I followed and
mounted him there. I had a map, a compass, and a paper of
instructions from the Marshal, and with these in the bosom of my
tunic and my sabre at my side I set out upon my adventure.
A thin rain was falling and there was no moon, so you may imagine
that it was not very cheerful. But my heart was light at the
thought of the honour which had been done me and the glory which
awaited me. This exploit should be one more in that brilliant
series which was to change my sabre into a baton. Ah, how we
dreamed, we foolish fellows, young, and drunk with success!
Could I have foreseen that night as I rode, the chosen man of
sixty thousand, that I should spend my life planting cabbages on
a hundred francs a month! Oh, my youth, my hopes, my comrades!
But the wheel turns and never stops. Forgive me, my friends, for
an old man has his weakness.
My route, then, lay across the face of the high ground of Torres
Vedras, then over a streamlet, past a farmhouse which had been
burned down and was now only a landmark, then through a forest of
young cork oaks, and so to the monastery of San Antonio, which
marked the left of the English position. Here I turned south and
rode quietly over the downs, for it was at this point that
Massena thought that it would be most easy for me to find my way
unobserved through the position. I went very slowly, for it was
so dark that I could not see my hand in front of me. In such
cases I leave my bridle loose and let my horse pick its own way.
Voltigeur went confidently forward, and I was very content to sit
upon his back and to peer about me, avoiding every light.
For three hours we advanced in this cautious way, until it seemed
to me that I must have left all danger behind me. I then pushed
on more briskly, for I wished to be in the rear of the whole army
by daybreak. There are many vineyards in these parts which in
winter become open plains, and a horseman finds few difficulties
in his way.
But Massena had underrated the cunning of these English, for it
appears that there was not one line of defence but three, and it
was the third, which was the most formidable, through which I was
at that instant passing. As I rode, elated at my own success, a
lantern flashed suddenly before me, and I saw the glint of
polished gun-barrels and the gleam of a red coat.
"Who goes there?" cried a voice--such a voice! I swerved to the
right and rode like a madman, but a dozen squirts of fire came
out of the darkness, and the bullets whizzed all round my ears.
That was no new sound to me, my friends, though I will not talk
like a foolish conscript and say that I have ever liked it. But
at least it had never kept me from thinking clearly, and so I
knew that there was nothing for it but to gallop hard and try my
luck elsewhere. I rode round the English picket, and then, as I
heard nothing more of them, I concluded rightly that I had at
last come through their defences.
For five miles I rode south, striking a tinder from time to time
to look at my pocket compass. And then in an instant-- I feel
the pang once more as my memory brings back the moment--my horse,
without a sob or staggers fell stone-dead beneath me!
I had never known it, but one of the bullets from that infernal
picket had passed through his body. The gallant creature had
never winced nor weakened, but had gone while life was in him.
One instant I was secure on the swiftest, most graceful horse in
Massena's army. The next he lay upon his side, worth only the
price of his hide, and I stood there that most helpless, most
ungainly of creatures, a dismounted Hussar. What could I do with
my boots, my spurs, my trailing sabre? I was far inside the
enemy's lines. How could I hope to get back again?
I am not ashamed to say that I, Etienne Gerard, sat upon my dead
horse and sank my face in my hands in my despair.
Already the first streaks were whitening the east.
In half an hour it would be light. That I should have won my way
past every obstacle and then at this last instant be left at the
mercy of my enemies, my mission ruined, and myself a
prisoner--was it not enough to break a soldier's heart?
But courage, my friends! We have these moments of weakness, the
bravest of us; but I have a spirit like a slip of steel, for the
more you bend it the higher it springs.
One spasm of despair, and then a brain of ice and a heart of
fire. All was not yet lost. I who had come through so many
hazards would come through this one also. I rose from my horse
and considered what had best be done.
And first of all it was certain that I could not get back. Long
before I could pass the lines it would be broad daylight. I must
hide myself for the day, and then devote the next night to my
escape. I took the saddle, holsters, and bridle from poor
Voltigeur, and I concealed them among some bushes, so that no one
finding him could know that he was a French horse. Then, leaving
him lying there, I wandered on in search of some place where I
might be safe for the day. In every direction I could see camp
fires upon the sides of the hills, and already figures had begun
to move around them. I must hide quickly, or I was lost.
But where was I to hide? It was a vineyard in which I found
myself, the poles of the vines still standing, but the plants
gone. There was no cover there. Besides, I should want some
food and water before another night had come. I hurried wildly
onward through the waning darkness, trusting that chance would be
And I was not disappointed. Chance is a woman, my friends, and
she has her eye always upon a gallant Hussar.
Well, then, as I stumbled through the vineyard, something loomed
in front of me, and I came upon a great square house with another
long, low building upon one side of it. Three roads met there,
and it was easy to see that this was the posada, or wine-shop.
There was no light in the windows, and everything was dark and
silent, but, of course, I knew that such comfortable quarters
were certainly occupied, and probably by someone of importance.
I have learned, however, that the nearer the danger may really be
the safer place, and so I was by no means inclined to trust
myself away from this shelter. The low building was evidently
the stable, and into this I crept, for the door was unlatched.
The place was full of bullocks and sheep, gathered there, no
doubt, to be out of the clutches of marauders.
A ladder led to a loft, and up this I climbed and concealed
myself very snugly among some bales of hay upon the top. This
loft had a small open window, and I was able to look down upon
the front of the inn and also upon the road. There I crouched
and waited to see what would happen.
It was soon evident that I had not been mistaken when I had
thought that this might be the quarters of some person of
importance. Shortly after daybreak an English light dragoon
arrived with a despatch, and from then onward the place was in a
turmoil, officers continually riding up and away. Always the
same name was upon their lips: "Sir Stapleton--Sir Stapleton."
It was hard for me to lie there with a dry moustache and watch
the great flagons which were brought out by the landlord to these
English officers. But it amused me to look at their
fresh-coloured, clean-shaven, careless faces, and to wonder what
they would think if they knew that so celebrated a person was
lying so near to them. And then, as I lay and watched, I saw a
sight which filled me with surprise.
It is incredible the insolence of these English! What do you
suppose Milord Wellington had done when he found that Massena had
blockaded him and that he could not move his army? I might give
you many guesses. You might say that he had raged, that he had
despaired, that he had brought his troops together and spoken to
them about glory and the fatherland before leading them to one
last battle. No, Milord did none of these things. But he sent a
fleet ship to England to bring him a number of fox-dogs; and he
with his officers settled himself down to chase the fox. It is
true what I tell you. Behind the lines of Torres Vedras these
mad Englishmen made the fox chase three days in the week.
We had heard of it in the camp, and now I was myself to see that
it was true.
For, along the road which I have described, there came these very
dogs, thirty or forty of them, white and brown, each with its
tail at the same angle, like the bayonets of the Old Guard. My
faith, but it was a pretty sight! And behind and amidst them
there rode three men with peaked caps and red coats, whom I
understood to be the hunters. After them came many horsemen with
uniforms of various kinds, stringing along the roads in twos and
threes, talking together and laughing.
They did not seem to be going above a trot, and it appeared to me
that it must indeed be a slow fox which they hoped to catch.
However, it was their affair, not mine, and soon they had all
passed my window and were out of sight. I waited and I watched,
ready for any chance which might offer.
Presently an officer, in a blue uniform not unlike that of our
flying artillery, came cantering down the road--an elderly, stout
man he was, with grey side-whiskers. He stopped and began to
talk with an orderly officer of dragoons, who waited outside the
inn, and it was then that I learned the advantage of the English
which had been taught me. I could hear and understand all that
"Where is the meet?" said the officer, and I thought that he was
hungering for his bifstek. But the other answered him that it
was near Altara, so I saw that it was a place of which he spoke.
"You are late, Sir George," said the orderly.
"Yes, I had a court-martial. Has Sir Stapleton Cotton gone?"
At this moment a window opened, and a handsome young man in a
very splendid uniform looked out of it.
"Halloa, Murray!" said he. "These cursed papers keep me, but I
will be at your heels."
"Very good, Cotton. I am late already, so I will ride on."
"You might order my groom to bring round my horse," said the
young General at the window to the orderly below, while the other
went on down the road.
The orderly rode away to some outlying stable, and then in a few
minutes there came a smart English groom with a cockade in his
hat, leading by the bridle a horse-- and, oh, my friends, you
have never known the perfection to which a horse can attain until
you have seen a first- class English hunter. He was superb:
tall, broad, strong, and yet as graceful and agile as a deer.
Coal black he was in colour, and his neck, and his shoulder, and
his quarters, and his fetlocks--how can I describe him all to
you? The sun shone upon him as on polished ebony, and he raised
his hoofs in a little playful dance so lightly and prettily,
while he tossed his mane and whinnied with impatience. Never
have I seen such a mixture of strength and beauty and grace. I
had often wondered how the English Hussars had managed to ride
over the chasseurs of the Guards in the affair at Astorga, but I
wondered no longer when I saw the English horses.
There was a ring for fastening bridles at the door of the inn,
and the groom tied the horse there while he entered the house.
In an instant I had seen the chance which Fate had brought to me.
Were I in that saddle I should be better off than when I started.
Even Voltigeur could not compare with this magnificent creature.
To think is to act with me. In one instant I was down the ladder
and at the door of the stable. The next I was out and the bridle
was in my hand. I bounded into the saddle.
Somebody, the master or the man, shouted wildly behind me. What
cared I for his shouts! I touched the horse with my spurs and he
bounded forward with such a spring that only a rider like myself
could have sat him. I gave him his head and let him go--it did
not matter to me where, so long as we left this inn far behind
us. He thundered away across the vineyards, and in a very few
minutes I had placed miles between myself and my pursuers. They
could no longer tell in that wild country in which direction I
had gone. I knew that I was safe, and so, riding to the top of a
small hill, I drew my pencil and note-book from my pocket and
proceeded to make plans of those camps which I could see and to
draw the outline of the country.
He was a dear creature upon whom I sat, but it was not easy to
draw upon his back, for every now and then his two ears would
cock, and he would start and quiver with impatience. At first I
could not understand this trick of his, but soon I observed that
he only did it when a peculiar noise--"yoy, yoy, yoy"--came from
somewhere among the oak woods beneath us. And then suddenly this
strange cry changed into a most terrible screaming, with the
frantic blowing of a horn. Instantly he went mad--this horse.
His eyes blazed. His mane bristled. He bounded from the earth
and bounded again, twisting and turning in a frenzy. My pencil
flew one way and my note-book another. And then, as I looked
down into the valley, an extraordinary sight met my eyes.
The hunt was streaming down it. The fox I could not see, but the
dogs were in full cry, their noses down, their tails up, so close
together that they might have been one great yellow and white
moving carpet. And behind them rode the horsemen--my faith, what
a sight! Consider every type which a great army could show.
Some in hunting dress, but the most in uniforms: blue dragoons,
red dragoons, red-trousered hussars, green riflemen,
artillerymen, gold-slashed lancers, and most of all red, red,
red, for the infantry officers ride as hard as the cavalry.
Such a crowd, some well mounted, some ill, but all flying along
as best they might, the subaltern as good as the general,
jostling and pushing, spurring and driving, with every thought
thrown to the winds save that they should have the blood of this
absurd fox! Truly, they are an extraordinary people, the
But I had little time to watch the hunt or to marvel at these
islanders, for of all these mad creatures the very horse upon
which I sat was the maddest. You understand that he was himself
a hunter, and that the crying of these dogs was to him what the
call of a cavalry trumpet in the street yonder would be to me.
It thrilled him. It drove him wild. Again and again he bounded
into the air, and then, seizing the bit between his teeth, he
plunged down the slope and galloped after the dogs.
I swore, and tugged, and pulled, but I was powerless.
This English General rode his horse with a snaffle only, and the
beast had a mouth of iron. It was useless to pull him back. One
might as well try to keep a grenadier from a wine-bottle. I gave
it up in despair, and, settling down in the saddle, I prepared
for the worst which could befall.
What a creature he was! Never have I felt such a horse between
my knees. His great haunches gathered under him with every
stride, and he shot forward ever faster and faster, stretched
like a greyhound, while the wind beat in my face and whistled
past my ears. I was wearing our undress jacket, a uniform simple
and dark in itself--though some figures give distinction to any
uniform--and I had taken the precaution to remove the long
panache from my busby. The result was that, amidst the mixture
of costumes in the hunt, there was no reason why mine should
attract attention, or why these men, whose thoughts were all with
the chase, should give any heed to me. The idea that a French
officer might be riding with them was too absurd to enter their
minds. I laughed as I rode, for, indeed, amid all the danger,
there was something of comic in the situation.
I have said that the hunters were very unequally mounted, and so
at the end of a few miles, instead of being one body of men, like
a charging regiment, they were scattered over a considerable
space, the better riders well up to the dogs and the others
trailing away behind.
Now, I was as good a rider as any, and my horse was the best of
them all, and so you can imagine that it was not long before he
carried me to the front. And when I saw the dogs streaming over
the open, and the red-coated huntsman behind them, and only seven
or eight horsemen between us, then it was that the strangest
thing of all happened, for I, too, went mad--I, Etienne Gerard!
In a moment it came upon me, this spirit of sport, this desire to
excel, this hatred of the fox. Accursed animal, should he then
defy us? Vile robber, his hour was come!
Ah, it is a great feeling, this feeling of sport, my friends,
this desire to trample the fox under the hoofs of your horse. I
have made the fox chase with the English. I have also, as I may
tell you some day, fought the box-fight with the Bustler, of
Bristol. And I say to you that this sport is a wonderful
thing--full of interest as well as madness.
The farther we went the faster galloped my horse, and soon there
were but three men as near the dogs as I was.
All thought of fear of discovery had vanished. My brain
throbbed, my blood ran hot--only one thing upon earth seemed
worth living for, and that was to overtake this infernal fox. I
passed one of the horsemen--a Hussar like myself. There were
only two in front of me now: the one in a black coat, the other
the blue artilleryman whom I had seen at the inn. His grey
whiskers streamed in the wind, but he rode magnificently. For a
mile or more we kept in this order, and then, as we galloped up a
steep slope, my lighter weight brought me to the front.
I passed them both, and when I reached the crown I was riding
level with the little, hard-faced English huntsman.
In front of us were the dogs, and then, a hundred paces beyond
them, was a brown wisp of a thing, the fox itself, stretched to
the uttermost. The sight of him fired my blood. "Aha, we have
you then, assassin!" I cried, and shouted my encouragement to the
huntsman. I waved my hand to show him that there was one upon
whom he could rely.
And now there were only the dogs between me and my prey. These
dogs, whose duty it is to point out the game, were now rather a
hindrance than a help to us, for it was hard to know how to pass
them. The huntsman felt the difficulty as much as I, for he rode
behind them, and could make no progress toward the fox. He was a
swift rider, but wanting in enterprise. For my part, I felt that
it would be unworthy of the Hussars of Conflans if I could not
overcome such a difficulty as this.
Was Etienne Gerard to be stopped by a herd of fox-dogs?
It was absurd. I gave a shout and spurred my horse.
"Hold hard, sir! Hold hard!" cried the huntsman.
He was uneasy for me, this good old man, but I reassured him by a
wave and a smile. The dogs opened in front of me. One or two
may have been hurt, but what would you have? The egg must be
broken for the omelette. I could hear the huntsman shouting his
congratulations behind me. One more effort, and the dogs were
all behind me. Only the fox was in front.
Ah, the joy and pride of that moment! To know that I had beaten
the English at their own sport. Here were three hundred, all
thirsting for the life of this animal, and yet it was I who was
about to take it. I thought of my comrades of the light cavalry
brigade, of my mother, of the Emperor, of France. I had brought
honour to each and all. Every instant brought me nearer to the
fox. The moment for action had arrived, so I unsheathed my
sabre. I waved it in the air, and the brave English all shouted
Only then did I understand how difficult is this fox chase, for
one may cut again and again at the creature and never strike him
once. He is small, and turns quickly from a blow. At every cut
I heard those shouts of encouragement from behind me, and they
spurred me to yet another effort. And then at last the supreme
moment of my triumph arrived. In the very act of turning I
caught him fair with such another back-handed cut as that with
which I killed the aide-de-camp of the Emperor of Russia. He
flew into two pieces, his head one way and his tail another. I
looked back and waved the blood- stained sabre in the air. For
the moment I was exalted --superb!
Ah! how I should have loved to have waited to have received the
congratulations of these generous enemies.
There were fifty of them in sight, and not one who was not waving
his hand and shouting. They are not really such a phlegmatic
race, the English. A gallant deed in war or in sport will always
warm their hearts. As to the old huntsman, he was the nearest to
me, and I could see with my own eyes how overcome he was by what
he had seen. He was like a man paralysed, his mouth open, his
hand, with outspread fingers, raised in the air. For a moment my
inclination was to return and to embrace him.
But already the call of duty was sounding in my ears, and these
English, in spite of all the fraternity which exists among
sportsmen, would certainly have made me prisoner. There was no
hope for my mission now, and I had done all that I could do. I
could see the lines of Massena's camp no very great distance off,
for, by a lucky chance, the chase had taken us in that direction.
I turned from the dead fox, saluted with my sabre, and galloped
But they would not leave me so easily, these gallant huntsmen. I
was the fox now, and the chase swept bravely over the plain. It
was only at the moment when I started for the camp that they
could have known that I was a Frenchman, and now the whole swarm
of them were at my heels. We were within gunshot of our pickets
before they would halt, and then they stood in knots and would
not go away, but shouted and waved their hands at me. No, I will
not think that it was in enmity. Rather would I fancy that a
glow of admiration filled their breasts, and that their one
desire was to embrace the stranger who had carried himself so
gallantly and well.
IV. How the Brigadier Saved the Army
I have told you, my friends, how we held the English shut up for
six months, from October, 1810, to March, 1811, within their
lines of Torres Vedras. It was during this time that I hunted
the fox in their company, and showed them that amidst all their
sportsmen there was not one who could outride a Hussar of
Conflans. When I galloped back into the French lines with the
blood of the creature still moist upon my blade the outposts who
had seen what I had done raised a frenzied cry in my honour,
whilst these English hunters still yelled behind me, so that I
had the applause of both armies. It made the tears rise to my
eyes to feel that I had won the admiration of so many brave men.
These English are generous foes. That very evening there came a
packet under a white flag addressed "To the Hussar officer who
cut down the fox." Within, I found the fox itself in two pieces,
as I had left it. There was a note also, short but hearty, as
the English fashion is, to say that as I had slaughtered the fox
it only remained for me to eat it. They could not know that it
was not our French custom to eat foxes, and it showed their
desire that he who had won the honours of the chase should also
partake of the game. It is not for a Frenchman to be outdone in
politeness, and so I returned it to these brave hunters, and
begged them to accept it as a side-dish for their next dejeuner
de la chasse.
It is thus that chivalrous opponents make war.
I had brought back with me from my ride a clear plan of the
English lines, and this I laid before Massena that very evening.
I had hoped that it would lead him to attack, but all the
marshals were at each other's throats, snapping and growling like
so many hungry hounds. Ney hated Massena, and Massena hated
Junot, and Soult hated them all. For this reason, nothing was
done. In the meantime food grew more and more scarce, and our
beautiful cavalry was ruined for want of fodder. With the end of
the winter we had swept the whole country bare, and nothing
remained for us to eat, although we sent our forage parties far
and wide. It was clear even to the bravest of us that the time
had come to retreat. I was myself forced to admit it.
But retreat was not so easy. Not only were the troops weak and
exhausted from want of supplies, but the enemy had been much
encouraged by our long inaction. Of Wellington we had no great
fear. We had found him to be brave and cautious, but with little
enterprise. Besides, in that barren country his pursuit could
not be rapid.
But on our flanks and in our rear there had gathered great
numbers of Portuguese militia, of armed peasants, and of
guerillas. These people had kept a safe distance all the winter,
but now that our horses were foundered they were as thick as
flies all round our outposts, and no man's life was worth a sou
when once he fell into their hands. I could name a dozen
officers of my own acquaintance who were cut off during that
time, and the luckiest was he who received a ball from behind a
rock through his head or his heart. There were some whose deaths
were so terrible that no report of them was ever allowed to reach
their relatives. So frequent were these tragedies, and so much
did they impress the imagination of the men, that it became very
difficult to induce them to leave the camp.
There was one especial scoundrel, a guerilla chief named Manuelo,
"The Smiler," whose exploits filled our men with horror. He was
a large, fat man of jovial aspect, and he lurked with a fierce
gang among the mountains which lay upon our left flank. A volume
might be written of this fellow's cruelties and brutalities, but
he was certainly a man of power, for he organised his brigands in
a manner which made it almost impossible for us to get through
his country. This he did by imposing a severe discipline upon
them and enforcing it by cruel penalties, a policy by which he
made them formidable, but which had some unexpected results, as I
will show you in my story. Had he not flogged his own
lieutenant--but you will hear of that when the time comes.
There were many difficulties in connection with a retreat, but it
was very evident that there was no other possible course, and so
Massena began to quickly pass his baggage and his sick from
Torres Novas, which was his headquarters, to Coimbra, the first
strong post on his line of communications. He could not do this
unperceived, however, and at once the guerillas came swarming
closer and closer upon our flanks. One of our divisions, that of
Clausel, with a brigade of Montbrun's cavalry, was far to the
south of the Tagus, and it became very necessary to let them know
that we were about to retreat, for Otherwise they would be left
unsupported in the very heart of the enemy's country. I remember
wondering how Massena would accomplish this, for simple couriers
could not get through, and small parties would be certainly
destroyed. In some way an order to fall back must be conveyed to
these men, or France would be the weaker by fourteen thousand
men. Little did I think that it was I, Colonel Gerard, who was
to have the honour of a deed which might have formed the crowning
glory of any other man's life, and which stands high among those
exploits which have made my own so famous.
At that time I was serving on Massena's staff, and he had two
other aides-de-camp, who were also very brave and intelligent
officers. The name of one was Cortex and of the other Duplessis.
They were senior to me in age, but junior in every other respect.
Cortex was a small, dark man, very quick and eager. He was a
fine soldier, but he was ruined by his conceit. To take him at
his own valuation, he was the first man in the army.
Duplessis was a Gascon, like myself, and he was a very fine
fellow, as all Gascon gentlemen are. We took it in turn, day
about, to do duty, and it was Cortex who was in attendance upon
the morning of which I speak. I saw him at breakfast, but
afterward neither he nor his horse was to be seen. All day
Massena was in his usual gloom, and he spent much of his time
staring with his telescope at the English lines and at the
shipping in the Tagus.
He said nothing of the mission upon which he had sent our
comrade, and it was not for us to ask him any questions.
That night, about twelve o'clock, I was standing outside the
Marshal's headquarters when he came out and stood motionless for
half an hour, his arms folded upon his breast, staring through
the darkness toward the east.
So rigid and intent was he that you might have believed the
muffled figure and the cocked hat to have been the statue of the
man. What he was looking for I could not imagine; but at last he
gave a bitter curse, and, turning on his heel, he went back into
the house, banging the door behind him.
Next day the second aide-de-camp, Duplessis, had an interview
with Massena in the morning, after which neither he nor his horse
was seen again. That night, as I sat in the ante-room, the
Marshal passed me, and I observed him through the window standing
and staring to the east exactly as he had done before. For fully
half an hour he remained there, a black shadow in the gloom.
Then he strode in, the door banged, and I heard his spurs and his
scabbard jingling and clanking through the passage. At the best
he was a savage old man, but when he was crossed I had almost as
soon face the Emperor himself. I heard him that night cursing
and stamping above my head, but he did not send for me, and I
knew him too well to go unsought.
Next morning it was my turn, for I was the only aide- de-camp
left. I was his favourite aide-de-camp. His heart went out
always to a smart soldier. I declare that I think there were
tears in his black eyes when he sent for me that morning.
"Gerard," said he. "Come here!"
With a friendly gesture he took me by the sleeve and he led me to
the open window which faced the east. Beneath us was the
infantry camp, and beyond that the lines of the cavalry with the
long rows of picketed horses.
We could see the French outposts, and then a stretch of open
country, intersected by vineyards. A range of hills lay beyond,
with one well-marked peak towering above them. Round the base of
these hills was a broad belt of forest. A single road ran white
and clear, dipping and rising until it passed through a gap in
"This," said Massena, pointing to the mountain, "is the Sierra de
Merodal. Do you perceive anything upon the top?"
I answered that I did not.
"Now?" he asked, and he handed me his field-glass.
With its aid I perceived a small mound or cairn upon the crest.
"What you see," said the Marshal, "is a pile of logs which was
placed there as a beacon. We laid it when the country was in our
hands, and now, although we no longer hold it, the beacon remains
undisturbed. Gerard, that beacon must be lit to-night. France
needs it, the Emperor needs it, the army needs it. Two of your
comrades have gone to light it, but neither has made his way to
the summit. To-day it is your turn, and I pray that you may have
It is not for a soldier to ask the reason for his orders, and so
I was about to hurry from the room, but the Marshal laid his hand
upon my shoulder and held me.
"You shall know all, and so learn how high is the cause for which
you risk your life," said he. "Fifty miles to the south of us,
on the other side of the Tagus, is the army of General Clausel.
His camp is situated near a peak named the Sierra d'Ossa. On the
summit of this peak is a beacon, and by this beacon he has a
picket. It is agreed between us that when at midnight he shall
see our signal-fire he shall light his own as an answer, and
shall then at once fall back upon the main army. If he does not
start at once I must go without him. For two days I have
endeavoured to send him his message. It must reach him to-day,
or his army will be left behind and destroyed."
Ah, my friends, how my heart swelled when I heard how high was
the task which Fortune had assigned to me!
If my life were spared, here was one more splendid new leaf for
my laurel crown. If, on the other hand, I died, then it would be
a death worthy of such a career. I said nothing, but I cannot
doubt that all the noble thoughts that were in me shone in my
face, for Massena took my hand and wrung it.
"There is the hill and there the beacon," said he.
"There is only this guerilla and his men between you and it. I
cannot detach a large party for the enterprise and a small one
would be seen and destroyed. Therefore to you alone I commit it.
Carry it out in your own way, but at twelve o'clock this night
let me see the fire upon the hill."
"If it is not there," said I, "then I pray you, Marshal Massena,
to see that my effects are sold and the money sent to my mother."
So I raised my hand to my busby and turned upon my heel, my heart
glowing at the thought of the great exploit which lay before me.
I sat in my own chamber for some little time considering how I
had best take the matter in hand. The fact that neither Cortex
nor Duplessis, who were very zealous and active officers, had
succeeded in reaching the summit of the Sierra de Merodal, showed
that the country was very closely watched by the guerillas. I
reckoned out the distance upon a map. There were ten miles of
open country to be crossed before reaching the hills. Then came
a belt of forest on the lower slopes of the mountain, which may
have been three or four miles wide. And then there was the
actual peak itself, of no very great height, but without any
cover to conceal me. Those were the three stages of my journey.
It seemed to me that once I had reached the shelter of the wood
all would be easy, for I could lie concealed within its shadows
and climb upward under the cover of night.
From eight till twelve would give me four hours of darkness in
which to make the ascent. It was only the first stage, then,
which I had seriously to consider.
Over that flat country there lay the inviting white road, and I
remembered that my comrades had both taken their horses. That
was clearly their ruin, for nothing could be easier than for the
brigands to keep watch upon the road, and to lay an ambush for
all who passed along it. It would not be difficult for me to
ride across country, and I was well horsed at that time, for I
had not only Violette and Rataplan, who were two of the finest
mounts in the army, but I had the splendid black English hunter
which I had taken from Sir Cotton. However, after much thought,
I determined to go upon foot, since I should then be in a better
state to take advantage of any chance which might offer. As to
my dress, I covered my Hussar uniform with a long cloak, and I
put a grey forage cap upon my head. You may ask me why I did not
dress as a peasant, but I answer that a man of honour has no
desire to die the death of a spy. It is one thing to be
murdered, and it is another to be justly executed by the laws of
war. I would not run the risk of such an end.
In the late afternoon I stole out of the camp and passed through
the line of our pickets. Beneath my cloak I had a field-glass
and a pocket pistol, as well as my sword. In my pocket were
tinder, flint, and steel.
For two or three miles I kept under cover of the vineyards, and
made such good progress that my heart was high within me, and I
thought to myself that it only needed a man of some brains to
take the matter in hand to bring it easily to success. Of
course, Cortex and Duplessis galloping down the high-road would
be easily seen, but the intelligent Gerard lurking among the
vines was quite another person. I dare say I had got as far as
five miles before I met any check. At that point there is a
small wine-house, round which I perceived some carts and a number
of people, the first that I had seen. Now that I was well
outside the lines I knew that every person was my enemy, so I
crouched lower while I stole along to a point from which I could
get a better view of what was going on. I then perceived that
these people were peasants, who were loading two waggons with
empty wine- casks. I failed to see how they could either help or
hinder me, so I continued upon my way.
But soon I understood that my task was not so simple as had
appeared. As the ground rose the vineyards ceased, and I came
upon a stretch of open country studded with low hills. Crouching
in a ditch I examined them with a glass, and I very soon
perceived that there was a watcher upon every one of them, and
that these people had a line of pickets and outposts thrown
forward exactly like our own. I had heard of the discipline
which was practised by this scoundrel whom they called "The
Smiler," and this, no doubt, was an example of it.
Between the hills there was a cordon of sentries, and though I
worked some distance round to the flank I still found myself
faced by the enemy. It was a puzzle what to do.
There was so little cover that a rat could hardly cross without
being seen. Of course, it would be easy enough to slip through
at night, as I had done with the English at Torres Vedras, but I
was still far from the mountain and I could not in that case
reach it in time to light the midnight beacon. I lay in my ditch
and I made a thousand plans, each more dangerous than the last.
And then suddenly I had that flash of light which comes to the
brave man who refuses to despair.
You remember I have mentioned that two waggons were loading up
with empty casks at the inn. The heads of the oxen were turned
to the east, and it was evident that those waggons were going in
the direction which I desired. Could I only conceal myself upon
one of them, what better and easier way could I find of passing
through the lines of the guerillas? So simple and so good was
the plan that I could not restrain a cry of delight as it crossed
my mind, and I hurried away instantly in the direction of the
inn. There, from behind some bushes, I had a good look at what
was going on upon the road.
There were three peasants with red montero caps loading the
barrels, and they had completed one waggon and the lower tier of
the other. A number of empty barrels still lay outside the
wine-house waiting to be put on.
Fortune was my friend--I have always said that she is a woman and
cannot resist a dashing young Hussar. As I watched, the three
fellows went into the inn, for the day was hot and they were
thirsty after their labour. Quick as a flash I darted out from
my hiding-place, climbed on to the waggon, and crept into one of
the empty casks.
It had a bottom but no top, and it lay upon its side with the
open end inward. There I crouched like a dog in its kennel, my
knees drawn up to my chin, for the barrels were not very large
and I am a well-grown man. As I lay there, out came the three
peasants again, and presently I heard a crash upon the top of me
which told that I had another barrel above me. They piled them
upon the cart until I could not imagine how I was ever to get out
again. However, it is time to think of crossing the Vistula when
you are over the Rhine, and I had no doubt that if chance and my
own wits had carried me so far they would carry me farther.
Soon, when the waggon was full, they set forth upon their way,
and I within my barrel chuckled at every step, for it was
carrying me whither I wished to go. We travelled slowly, and the
peasants walked beside the waggons.
This I knew, because I heard their voices close to me. They
seemed to me to be very merry fellows, for they laughed heartily
as they went. What the joke was I could not understand. Though
I speak their language fairly well I could not hear anything
comic in the scraps of their conversation which met my ear.
I reckoned that at the rate of walking of a team of oxen we
covered about two miles an hour. Therefore, when I was sure that
two and a half hours had passed-- such hours, my friends,
cramped, suffocated, and nearly poisoned with the fumes of the
lees--when they had passed, I was sure that the dangerous open
country was behind us, and that we were upon the edge of the
forest and the mountain. So now I had to turn my mind upon how I
was to get out of my barrel. I had thought of several ways, and
was balancing one against the other when the question was decided
for me in a very simple but unexpected manner.
The waggon stopped suddenly with a jerk, and I heard a number of
gruff voices in excited talk. "Where, where?" cried one. "On
our cart," said another. "Who is he?" said a third. "A French
officer; I saw his cap and his boots." They all roared with
laughter. "I was looking out of the window of the posada and I
saw him spring into the cask like a toreador with a Seville bull
at his heels." "Which cask, then?" "It was this one," said the
fellow, and sure enough his fist struck the wood beside my head.
What a situation, my friends, for a man of my standing!
I blush now, after forty years, when I think of it.
To be trussed like a fowl and to listen helplessly to the rude
laughter of these boors--to know, too, that my mission had come
to an ignominious and even ridiculous end --I would have blessed
the man who would have sent a bullet through the cask and freed
me from my misery.
I heard the crashing of the barrels as they hurled them off the
waggon, and then a couple of bearded faces and the muzzles of two
guns looked in at me. They seized me by the sleeves of my coat,
and they dragged me out into the daylight. A strange figure I
must have looked as I stood blinking and gaping in the blinding
My body was bent like a cripple's, for I could not straighten my
stiff joints, and half my coat was as red as an English soldier's
from the lees in which I had lain.
They laughed and laughed, these dogs, and as I tried to express
by my bearing and gestures the contempt in which I held them
their laughter grew all the louder. But even in these hard
circumstances I bore myself like the man I am, and as I cast my
eye slowly round I did not find that any of the laughers were
very ready to face it.
That one glance round was enough to tell me exactly how I was
situated. I had been betrayed by these peasants into the hands
of an outpost of guerillas. There were eight of them,
savage-looking, hairy creatures, with cotton handkerchiefs under
their sombreros, and many- buttoned jackets with coloured sashes
round the waist.
Each had a gun and one or two pistols stuck in his girdle.
The leader, a great, bearded ruffian, held his gun against my ear
while the others searched my pockets, taking from me my overcoat,
my pistol, my glass, my sword, and, worst of all, my flint and
steel and tinder. Come what might, I was ruined, for I had no
longer the means of lighting the beacon even if I should reach
Eight of them, my friends, with three peasants, and I unarmed!
Was Etienne Gerard in despair? Did he lose his wits? Ah, you
know me too well; but they did not know me yet, these dogs of
brigands. Never have I made so supreme and astounding an effort
as at this very instant when all seemed lost. Yet you might
guess many times before you would hit upon the device by which I
escaped them. Listen and I will tell you.
They had dragged me from the waggon when they searched me, and I
stood, still twisted and warped, in the midst of them. But the
stiffness was wearing off, and already my mind was very actively
looking out for some method of breaking away. It was a narrow
pass in which the brigands had their outpost. It was bounded on
the one hand by a steep mountain side. On the other the ground
fell away in a very long slope, which ended in a bushy valley
many hundreds of feet below. These fellows, you understand, were
hardy mountaineers, who could travel either up hill or down very
much quicker than I. They wore abarcas, or shoes of skin, tied
on like sandals, which gave them a foothold everywhere. A less
resolute man would have despaired. But in an instant I saw and
used the strange chance which Fortune had placed in my way. On
the very edge of the slope was one of the wine-barrels. I moved
slowly toward it, and then with a tiger spring I dived into it
feet foremost, and with a roll of my body I tipped it over the
side of the hill.
Shall I ever forget that dreadful journey--how I bounded and
crashed and whizzed down that terrible slope? I had dug in my
knees and elbows, bunching my body into a compact bundle so as to
steady it; but my head projected from the end, and it was a
marvel that I did not dash out my brains. There were long,
smooth slopes, and then came steeper scarps where the barrel
ceased to roll, and sprang into the air like a goat, coming down
with a rattle and crash which jarred every bone in my body. How
the wind whistled in my ears, and my head turned and turned until
I was sick and giddy and nearly senseless! Then, with a swish
and a great rasping and crackling of branches, I reached the
bushes which I had seen so far below me. Through them I broke my
way, down a slope beyond, and deep into another patch of
underwood, where, striking a sapling, my barrel flew to pieces.
From amid a heap of staves and hoops I crawled out, my body
aching in every inch of it, but my heart singing loudly with joy
and my spirit high within me, for I knew how great was the feat
which I had accomplished, and I already seemed to see the beacon
blazing on the hill.
A horrible nausea had seized me from the tossing which I had
undergone, and I felt as I did upon the ocean when first I
experienced those movements of which the English have taken so
perfidious an advantage. I had to sit for a few moments with my
head upon my hands beside the ruins of my barrel. But there was
no time for rest.
Already I heard shouts above me which told that my pursuers were
descending the hill. I dashed into the thickest part of the
underwood, and I ran and ran until I was utterly exhausted. Then
I lay panting and listened with all my ears, but no sound came to
them. I had shaken off my enemies.
When I had recovered my breath I travelled swiftly on, and waded
knee-deep through several brooks, for it came into my head that
they might follow me with dogs.
On gaining a clear place and looking round me, I found to my
delight that in spite of my adventures I had not been much out of
my way. Above me towered the peak of Merodal, with its bare and
bold summit shooting out of the groves of dwarf oaks which
shrouded its flanks.
These groves were the continuation of the cover under which I
found myself, and it seemed to me that I had nothing to fear now
until I reached the other side of the forest. At the same time I
knew that every man's hand was against me, that I was unarmed,
and that there were many people about me. I saw no one, but
several times I heard shrill whistles, and once the sound of a
gun in the distance.
It was hard work pushing one's way through the bushes, and so I
was glad when I came to the larger trees and found a path which
led between them. Of course, I was too wise to walk upon it, but
I kept near it and followed its course. I had gone some
distance, and had, as I imagined, nearly reached the limit of the
wood, when a strange, moaning sound fell upon my ears. At first
I thought it was the cry of some animal, but then there came
words, of which I only caught the French exclamation, "Mon Dieu!"
With great caution I advanced in the direction from which the
sound proceeded, and this is what I saw.
On a couch of dried leaves there was stretched a man dressed in
the same grey uniform which I wore myself.
He was evidently horribly wounded, for he held a cloth to his
breast which was crimson with his blood. A pool had formed all
round his couch, and he lay in a haze of flies, whose buzzing and
droning would certainly have called my attention if his groans
had not come to my ear.
I lay for a moment, fearing some trap, and then, my pity and
loyalty rising above all other feelings, I ran forward and knelt
by his side. He turned a haggard face upon me, and it was
Duplessis, the man who had gone before me. It needed but one
glance at his sunken cheeks and glazing eyes to tell me that he
"Gerard!" said he; "Gerard!"
I could but look my sympathy, but he, though the life was ebbing
swiftly out of him, still kept his duty before him, like the
gallant gentleman he was.
"The beacon, Gerard! You will light it?"
"Have you flint and steel?"
"It is here!"
"Then I will light it to-night."
"I die happy to hear you say so. They shot me, Gerard.
But you will tell the Marshal that I did my best."
"He was less fortunate. He fell into their hands and died
horribly. If you see that you cannot get away, Gerard, put a
bullet into your own heart. Don't die as Cortex did."
I could see that his breath was failing, and I bent low to catch
"Can you tell me anything which can help me in my task?" I asked.
"Yes, yes; de Pombal. He will help you. Trust de Pombal." With
the words his head fell back and he was dead.
"Trust de Pombal. It is good advice." To my amazement a man was
standing at the very side of me.
So absorbed had I been in my comrade's words and intent on his
advice that he had crept up without my observing him. Now I
sprang to my feet and faced him. He was a tall, dark fellow,
black-haired, black-eyed, black-bearded, with a long, sad face.
In his hand he had a wine-bottle and over his shoulder was slung
one of the trabucos or blunderbusses which these fellows bear.
He made no effort to unsling it, and I understood that this was
the man to whom my dead friend had commended me.
"Alas, he is gone!" said he, bending over Duplessis.
"He fled into the wood after he was shot, but I was fortunate
enough to find where he had fallen and to make his last hours
more easy. This couch was my making, and I had brought this wine
to slake his thirst."
"Sir," said I, "in the name of France I thank you. I am but a
colonel of light cavalry, but I am Etienne Gerard, and the name
stands for something in the French army. May I ask----"
"Yes, sir, I am Aloysius de Pombal, younger brother of the famous
nobleman of that name. At present I am the first lieutenant in
the band of the guerilla chief who is usually known as Manuelo,
'The Smiler.' "
My word, I clapped my hand to the place where my pistol should
have been, but the man only smiled at the gesture.
"I am his first lieutenant, but I am also his deadly enemy," said
he. He slipped off his jacket and pulled up his shirt as he
spoke. "Look at this!" he cried, and he turned upon me a back
which was all scored and lacerated with red and purple weals.
"This is what 'The Smiler' has done to me, a man with the noblest
blood of Portugal in my veins. What I will do to 'The Smiler'
you have still to see."
There was such fury in his eyes and in the grin of his white
teeth that I could no longer doubt his truth, with that clotted
and oozing back to corroborate his words.
"I have ten men sworn to stand by me," said he. "In a few days I
hope to join your army, when I have done my work here. In the
meanwhile--" A strange change came over his face, and he
suddenly slung his musket to the front: "Hold up your hands, you
French hound!" he yelled. "Up with them, or I blow your head
You start, my friends! You stare! Think, then, how I stared and
started at this sudden ending of our talk.
There was the black muzzle and there the dark, angry eyes behind
it. What could I do? I was helpless. I raised my hands in the
air. At the same moment voices sounded from all parts of the
wood, there were crying and calling and rushing of many feet. A
swarm of dreadful figures broke through the green bushes, a dozen
hands seized me, and I, poor, luckless, frenzied I, was a
prisoner once more. Thank God, there was no pistol which I could
have plucked from my belt and snapped at my own head. Had I been
armed at that moment I should not be sitting here in this cafe
and telling you these old-world tales.
With grimy, hairy hands clutching me on every side I was led
along the pathway through the wood, the villain de Pombal giving
directions to my Captors. Four of the brigands carried up the
dead body of Duplessis.
The shadows of evening were already falling when we cleared the
forest and came out upon the mountain-side.
Up this I was driven until we reached the headquarters of the
guerillas, which lay in a cleft close to the summit of the
mountain. There was the beacon which had cost me so much, a
square stack of wood, immediately above our heads. Below were
two or three huts which had belonged, no doubt, to goatherds, and
which were now used to shelter these rascals. Into one of these
I was cast, bound and helpless, and the dead body of my poor
comrade was laid beside me.
I was lying there with the one thought still consuming me, how to
wait a few hours and to get at that pile of fagots above my head,
when the door of my prison opened and a man entered. Had my
hands been free I should have flown at his throat, for it was
none other than de Pombal. A couple of brigands were at his
heels, but he ordered them back and closed the door behind him.
"You villain!" said I.
"Hush!" he cried. "Speak low, for I do not know who may be
listening, and my life is at stake. I have some words to say to
you, Colonel Gerard; I wish well to you, as I did to your dead
companion. As I spoke to you beside his body I saw that we were
surrounded, and that your capture was unavoidable. I should have
shared your fate had I hesitated. I instantly captured you
myself, so as to preserve the confidence of the band.
Your own sense will tell you that there was nothing else for me
to do. I do not know now whether I can save you, but at least I
This was a new light upon the situation. I told him that I could
not tell how far he spoke the truth, but that I would judge him
by his actions.
"I ask nothing better," said he. "A word of advice to you! The
chief will see you now. Speak him fair, or he will have you sawn
between two planks. Contradict nothing he says. Give him such
information as he wants. It is your only chance. If you can
gain time something may come in our favour. Now, I have no more
time. Come at once, or suspicion may be awakened."
He helped me to rise, and then, opening the door, he dragged me
out very roughly, and with the aid of the fellows outside he
brutally pushed and thrust me to the place where the guerilla
chief was seated, with his rude followers gathered round him.
A remarkable man was Manuelo, "The Smiler." He was fat and
florid and comfortable, with a big, clean- shaven face and a bald
head, the very model of a kindly father of a family. As I looked
at his honest smile I could scarcely believe that this was,
indeed, the infamous ruffian whose name was a horror through the
English Army as well as our own. It is well known that Trent,
who was a British officer, afterward had the fellow hanged for
his brutalities. He sat upon a boulder and he beamed upon me
like one who meets an old acquaintance.
I observed, however, that one of his men leaned upon a long saw,
and the sight was enough to cure me of all delusions.
"Good evening, Colonel Gerard," said he. "We have been highly
honoured by General Massena's staff: Major Cortex one day,
Colonel Duplessis the next, and now Colonel Gerard. Possibly the
Marshal himself may be induced to honour us with a visit. You
have seen Duplessis, I understand. Cortex you will find nailed
to a tree down yonder. It only remains to be decided how we can
best dispose of yourself."
It was not a cheering speech; but all the time his fat face was
wreathed in smiles, and he lisped out his words in the most
mincing and amiable fashion. Now, however, he suddenly leaned
forward, and I read a very real intensity in his eyes.
"Colonel Gerard," said he, "I cannot promise you your life, for
it is not our custom, but I can give you an easy death or I can
give you a terrible one. Which shall it be?"
"What do you wish me to do in exchange?"
"If you would die easy I ask you to give me truthful answers to
the questions which I ask."
A sudden thought flashed through my mind.
"You wish to kill me," said I; "it cannot matter to you how I
die. If I answer your questions, will you let me choose the
manner of my own death?"
"Yes, I will," said he, "so long as it is before midnight
"Swear it!" I cried.
"The word of a Portuguese gentleman is sufficient," said he.
"Not a word will I say until you have sworn it."
He flushed with anger and his eyes swept round toward the saw.
But he understood from my tone that I meant what I said, and that
I was not a man to be bullied into submission. He pulled a cross
from under his zammara or jacket of black sheepskin.
"I swear it," said he.
Oh, my joy as I heard the words! What an end-- what an end for
the first swordsman of France! I could have laughed with delight
at the thought.
"Now, your questions!" said I.
"You swear in turn to answer them truly?"
"I do, upon the honour of a gentleman and a soldier."
It was, as you perceive, a terrible thing that I promised, but
what was it compared to what I might gain by compliance?
"This is a very fair and a very interesting bargain," said he,
taking a note-book from his pocket.
"Would you kindly turn your gaze toward the French camp?"
Following the direction of his gesture, I turned and looked down
upon the camp in the plain beneath us. In spite of the fifteen
miles, one could in that clear atmosphere see every detail with
the utmost distinctness.
There were the long squares of our tents and our huts, with the
cavalry lines and the dark patches which marked the ten batteries
of artillery. How sad to think of my magnificent regiment
waiting down yonder, and to know that they would never see their
colonel again! With one squadron of them I could have swept all
these cut-throats of the face of the earth. My eager eyes filled
with tears as I looked at the corner of the camp where I knew
that there were eight hundred men, any one of whom would have
died for his colonel. But my sadness vanished when I saw beyond
the tents the plumes of smoke which marked the headquarters at
Torres Novas. There was Massena, and, please God, at the cost of
my life his mission would that night be done. A spasm of pride
and exultation filled my breast. I should have liked to have had
a voice of thunder that I might call to them, "Behold it is I,
Etienne Gerard, who will die in order to save the army of
Clausel!" It was, indeed, sad to think that so noble a deed
should be done, and that no one should be there to tell the tale.
"Now," said the brigand chief, "you see the camp and you see also
the road which leads to Coimbra. It is crowded with your
fourgons and your ambulances. Does this mean that Massena is
about to retreat?"
One could see the dark moving lines of waggons with an occasional
flash of steel from the escort. There could, apart from my
promise, be no indiscretion in admitting that which was already
"He will retreat," said I.
"I believe so."
"But the army of Clausel?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Every path to the south is blocked. No message can reach them.
If Massena falls back the army of Clausel is doomed."
"It must take its chance," said I.
"How many men has he?"
"I should say about fourteen thousand."
"How much cavalry?"
"One brigade of Montbrun's Division."
"The 4th Chasseurs, the 9th Hussars, and a regiment of
"Quite right," said he, looking at his note-book. "I can tell
you speak the truth, and Heaven help you if you don't." Then,
division by division, he went over the whole army, asking the
composition of each brigade.
Need I tell you that I would have had my tongue torn out before I
would have told him such things had I not a greater end in view?
I would let him know all if I could but save the army of Clausel.
At last he closed his note-book and replaced it in his pocket.
"I am obliged to you for this information, which shall reach Lord
Wellington to-morrow," said he.
"You have done your share of the bargain; it is for me now to
perform mine. How would you wish to die? As a soldier you
would, no doubt, prefer to be shot, but some think that a jump
over the Merodal precipice is really an easier death. A good few
have taken it, but we were, unfortunately, never able to get an
opinion from them afterward. There is the saw, too, which does
not appear to be popular. We could hang you, no doubt, but it
would involve the inconvenience of going down to the wood.
However, a promise is a promise, and you seem to be an excellent
fellow, so we will spare no pains to meet your wishes."
"You said," I answered, "that I must die before midnight.
I will choose, therefore, just one minute before that hour."
"Very good," said he. "Such clinging to life is rather childish,
but your wishes shall be met."
"As to the method," I added, "I love a death which all the world
can see. Put me on yonder pile of fagots and burn me alive, as
saints and martyrs have been burned before me. That is no common
end, but one which an Emperor might envy."
The idea seemed to amuse him very much. "Why not?" said he. "If
Massena has sent you to spy upon us, he may guess what the fire
upon the mountain means."
"Exactly," said I. "You have hit upon my very reason. He will
guess, and all will know, that I have died a soldier's death."
"I see no objection whatever," said the brigand, with his
abominable smile. "I will send some goat's flesh and wine into
your hut. The sun is sinking and it is nearly eight o'clock. In
four hours be ready for your end."
It was a beautiful world to be leaving. I looked at the golden
haze below, where the last rays of the sinking sun shone upon the
blue waters of the winding Tagus and gleamed upon the white sails
of the English transports.
Very beautiful it was, and very sad to leave; but there are
things more beautiful than that. The death that is died for the
sake of others, honour, and duty, and loyalty, and love--these
are the beauties far brighter than any which the eye can see. My
breast was filled with admiration for my own most noble conduct,
and with wonder whether any soul would ever come to know how I
had placed myself in the heart of the beacon which saved the army
of Clausel. I hoped so and I prayed so, for what a consolation
it would be to my mother, what an example to the army, what a
pride to my Hussars! When de Pombal came at last into my hut
with the food and the wine, the first request I made him was that
he would write an account of my death and send it to the French
He answered not a word, but I ate my supper with a better
appetite from the thought that my glorious fate would not be
I had been there about two hours when the door opened again, and
the chief stood looking in. I was in darkness, but a brigand
with a torch stood beside him, and I saw his eyes and his teeth
gleaming as he peered at me.
"Ready?" he asked.
"It is not yet time."
"You stand out for the last minute?"
"A promise is a promise."
"Very good. Be it so. We have a little justice to do among
ourselves, for one of my fellows has been misbehaving.
We have a strict rule of our own which is no respecter of
persons, as de Pombal here could tell you.
Do you truss him and lay him on the faggots, de Pombal, and I
will return to see him die."
De Pombal and the man with the torch entered, while I heard the
steps of the chief passing away. De Pombal closed the door.
"Colonel Gerard," said he, "you must trust this man, for he is
one of my party. It is neck or nothing. We may save you yet.
But I take a great risk, and I want a definite promise. If we
save you, will you guarantee that we have a friendly reception in
the French camp and that all the past will be forgotten?"
"I do guarantee it."
"And I trust your honour. Now, quick, quick, there is not an
instant to lose! If this monster returns we shall die horribly,
I stared in amazement at what he did. Catching up a long rope he
wound it round the body of my dead comrade, and he tied a cloth
round his mouth so as to almost cover his face.
"Do you lie there!" he cried, and he laid me in the place of the
dead body. "I have four of my men waiting, and they will place
this upon the beacon." He opened the door and gave an order.
Several of the brigands entered and bore out Duplessis. For
myself I remained upon the floor, with my mind in a turmoil of
hope and wonder.
Five minutes later de Pombal and his men were back.
"You are laid upon the beacon," said he; "I defy anyone in the
world to say it is not you, and you are so gagged and bound that
no one can expect you to speak or move. Now, it only remains to
carry forth the body of Duplessis and to toss it over the Merodal
Two of them seized me by the head and two by the heels, and
carried me, stiff and inert, from the hut. As I came into the
open air I could have cried out in my amazement. The moon had
risen above the beacon, and there, clear outlined against its
silver light, was the figure of the man stretched upon the top.
The brigands were either in their camp or standing round the
beacon, for none of them stopped or questioned our little party.
De Pombal led them in the direction of the precipice. At the
brow we were out of sight, and there I was allowed to use my feet
once more. De Pombal pointed to a narrow, winding track.
"This is the way down," said he, and then, suddenly,
"Dios mio, what is that?"
A terrible cry had risen out of the woods beneath us.
I saw that de Pombal was shivering like a frightened horse.
"It is that devil," he whispered. "He is treating another as he
treated me. But on, on, for Heaven help us if he lays his hands
One by one we crawled down the narrow goat track.
At the bottom of the cliff we were back in the woods once more.
Suddenly a yellow glare shone above us, and the black shadows of
the tree-trunks started out in front.
They had fired the beacon behind us. Even from where we stood we
could see that impassive body amid the flames, and the black
figures of the guerillas as they danced, howling like cannibals,
round the pile. Ha! how I shook my fist at them, the dogs, and
how I vowed that one day my Hussars and I would make the
De Pombal knew how the outposts were placed and all the paths
which led through the forest. But to avoid these villains we had
to plunge among the hills and walk for many a weary mile. And
yet how gladly would I have walked those extra leagues if only
for one sight which they brought to my eyes! It may have been
two o'clock in the morning when we halted upon the bare shoulder
of a hill over which our path curled. Looking back we saw the
red glow of the embers of the beacon as if volcanic fires were
bursting from the tall peak of Merodal. And then, as I gazed, I
saw something else-- something which caused me to shriek with joy
and to fall upon the ground, rolling in my delight. For, far
away upon the southern horizon, there winked and twinkled one
great yellow light, throbbing and flaming, the light of no house,
the light of no star, but the answering beacon of Mount d'Ossa,
which told that the army of Clausel knew what Etienne Gerard had
been sent to tell them.
V. How the Brigadier Triumphed in England
I have told you, my friends, how I triumphed over the English at
the fox-hunt when I pursued the animal so fiercely that even the
herd of trained dogs was unable to keep up, and alone with my own
hand I put him to the sword. Perhaps I have said too much of the
matter, but there is a thrill in the triumphs of sport which even
warfare cannot give, for in warfare you share your successes with
your regiment and your army, but in sport it is you yourself
unaided who have won the laurels. It is an advantage which the
English have over us that in all classes they take great interest
in every form of sport. It may be that they are richer than we,
or it may be that they are more idle: but I was surprised when I
was a prisoner in that country to observe how widespread was this
feeling, and how much it filled the minds and the lives of the
people. A horse that will run, a cock that will fight, a dog
that will kill rats, a man that will box--they would turn away
from the Emperor in all his glory in order to look upon any of
I could tell you many stories of English sport, for I saw much of
it during the time that I was the guest of Lord Rufton, after the
order for my exchange had come to England. There were months
before I could be sent back to France, and during this time I
stayed with this good Lord Rufton at his beautiful house of High
Combe, which is at the northern end of Dartmoor. He had ridden
with the police when they had pursued me from Princetown, and he
had felt toward me when I was overtaken as I would myself have
felt had I, in my own country, seen a brave and debonair soldier
without a friend to help him. In a word, he took me to his
house, clad me, fed me, and treated me as if he had been my
brother. I will say this of the English, that they were always
generous enemies, and very good people with whom to fight.
In the Peninsula the Spanish outposts would present their muskets
at ours, but the British their brandy-flasks. And of all these
generous men there was none who was the equal of this admirable
milord, who held out so warm a hand to an enemy in distress.
Ah! what thoughts of sport it brings back to me, the very name of
High Combe! I can see it now, the long, low brick house, warm
and ruddy, with white plaster pillars before the door. He was a
great sportsman, this Lord Rufton, and all who were about him
were of the same sort. But you will be pleased to hear that
there were few things in which I could not hold my own, and in
some I excelled. Behind the house was a wood in which pheasants
were reared, and it was Lord Rufton's joy to kill these birds,
which was done by sending in men to drive them out while he and
his friends stood outside and shot them as they passed. For my
part, I was more crafty, for I studied the habits of the bird,
and stealing out in the evening I was able to kill a number of
them as they roosted in the trees. Hardly a single shot was
wasted, but the keeper was attracted by the sound of the firing,
and he implored me in his rough English fashion to spare those
that were left. That night I was able to place twelve birds as a
surprise upon Lord Rufton's supper- table, and he laughed until
he cried, so overjoyed was he to see them. "Gad, Gerard, you'll
be the death of me yet!" he cried. Often he said the same thing,
for at every turn I amazed him by the way in which I entered into
the sports of the English.
There is a game called cricket which they play in the summer, and
this also I learned. Rudd, the head gardener, was a famous
player of cricket, and so was Lord Rufton himself. Before the
house was a lawn, and here it was that Rudd taught me the game.
It is a brave pastime, a game for soldiers, for each tries to
strike the other with the ball, and it is but a small stick with
which you may ward it off. Three sticks behind show the spot
beyond which you may not retreat. I can tell you that it is no
game for children, and I will confess that, in spite of my nine
campaigns, I felt myself turn pale when first the ball flashed
past me. So swift was it that I had not time to raise my stick
to ward it off, but by good fortune it missed me and knocked down
the wooden pins which marked the boundary. It was for Rudd then
to defend himself and for me to attack. When I was a boy in
Gascony I learned to throw both far and straight, so that I made
sure that I could hit this gallant Englishman.
With a shout I rushed forward and hurled the ball at him. It
flew as swift as a bullet toward his ribs, but without a word he
swung his staff and the ball rose a surprising distance in the
air. Lord Rufton clapped his hands and cheered. Again the ball
was brought to me, and again it was for me to throw. This time
it flew past his head, and it seemed to me that it was his turn
to look pale.
But he was a brave man, this gardener, and again he faced me.
Ah, my friends, the hour of my triumph had come! It was a red
waistcoat that he wore, and at this I hurled the ball. You would
have said that I was a gunner, not a hussar, for never was so
straight an aim. With a despairing cry--the cry of the brave man
who is beaten --he fell upon the wooden pegs behind him, and they
all rolled upon the ground together. He was cruel, this English
milord, and he laughed so that he could not come to the aid of
his servant. It was for me, the victor, to rush forward to
embrace this intrepid player, and to raise him to his feet with
words of praise, and encouragement, and hope. He was in pain and
could not stand erect, yet the honest fellow confessed that there
was no accident in my victory. "He did it a-purpose! He did it
Again and again he said it. Yes, it is a great game this
cricket, and I would gladly have ventured upon it again but Lord
Rufton and Rudd said that it was late in the season, and so they
would play no more.
How foolish of me, the old, broken man, to dwell upon these
successes, and yet I will confess that my age has been very much
soothed and comforted by the memory of the women who have loved
me and the men whom I have overcome. It is pleasant to think
that five years afterward, when Lord Rufton came to Paris after
the peace, he was able to assure me that my name was still a
famous one in the north of Devonshire for the fine exploits that
I had performed. Especially, he said, they still talked over my
boxing match with the Honourable Baldock. It came about in this
way. Of an evening many sportsmen would assemble at the house of
Lord Rufton, where they would drink much wine, make wild bets,
and talk of their horses and their foxes. How well I remember
those strange creatures. Sir Barrington, Jack Lupton, of
Barnstable, Colonel Addison, Johnny Miller, Lord Sadler, and my
enemy, the Honourable Baldock. They were of the same stamp all
of them, drinkers, madcaps, fighters, gamblers, full of strange
caprices and extraordinary whims. Yet they were kindly fellows
in their rough fashion, save only this Baldock, a fat man, who
prided himself on his skill at the box-fight. It was he who, by
his laughter against the French because they were ignorant of
sport, caused me to challenge him in the very sport at which he
excelled. You will say that it was foolish, my friends, but the
decanter had passed many times, and the blood of youth ran hot in
my veins. I would fight him, this boaster; I would show him that
if we had not skill at least we had courage. Lord Rufton would
not allow it. I insisted. The others cheered me on and slapped
me on the back. "No, dash it, Baldock, he's our guest," said
Rufton. "It's his own doing," the other answered. "Look here,
Rufton, they can't hurt each other if they wear the mawleys,"
cried Lord Sadler. And so it was agreed.
What the mawleys were I did not know, but presently they brought
out four great puddings of leather, not unlike a fencing glove,
but larger. With these our hands were covered after we had
stripped ourselves of our coats and our waistcoats. Then the
table, with the glasses and decanters, was pushed into the corner
of the room, and behold us; face to face! Lord Sadler sat in the
arm-chair with a watch in his open hand. "Time!" said he.
I will confess to you, my friends, that I felt at that moment a
tremor such as none of my many duels have ever given me. With
sword or pistol I am at home, but here I only understood that I
must struggle with this fat Englishman and do what I could, in
spite of these great puddings upon my hands, to overcome him.
And at the very outset I was disarmed of the best weapon that was
left to me. "Mind, Gerard, no kicking!" said Lord Rufton in my
ear. I had only a pair of thin dancing slippers, and yet the man
was fat, and a few well-directed kicks might have left me the
victor. But there is an etiquette just as there is in fencing,
and I refrained. I looked at this Englishman and I wondered how
I should attack him. His ears were large and prominent. Could I
seize them I might drag him to the ground. I rushed in, but I
was betrayed by this flabby glove, and twice I lost my hold. He
struck me, but I cared little for his blows, and again I seized
him by the ear. He fell, and I rolled upon him and thumped his
head upon the ground.
How they cheered and laughed, these gallant Englishmen, and how
they clapped me on the back!
"Even money on the Frenchman," cried Lord Sadler.
"He fights foul," cried my enemy, rubbing his crimson ears. "He
savaged me on the ground."
"You must take your chance of that," said Lord Rufton, coldly.
"Time!" cried Lord Sadler, and once again we advanced to the
He was flushed, and his small eyes were as vicious as those of a
bull-dog. There was hatred on his face. For my part I carried
myself lightly and gaily. A French gentleman fights but he does
not hate. I drew myself up before him, and I bowed as I have
done in the duello.
There can be grace and courtesy as well as defiance in a bow; I
put all three into this one, with a touch of ridicule in the
shrug which accompanied it. It was at this moment that he struck
me. The room spun round me. I fell upon my back. But in an
instant I was on my feet again and had rushed to a close combat.
His ear, his hair, his nose, I seized them each in turn. Once
again the mad joy of the battle was in my veins. The old cry of
triumph rose to my lips. "Vive l'Empereur!" I yelled as I drove
my head into his stomach. He threw his arm round my neck, and
holding me with one hand he struck me with the other. I buried
my teeth in his arm, and he shouted with pain. "Call him off,
Rufton!" he screamed.
"Call him off, man! He's worrying me!" They dragged me away
from him. Can I ever forget it?--the laughter, the cheering, the
congratulations! Even my enemy bore me no ill-will, for he shook
me by the hand. For my part I embraced him on each cheek. Five
years afterward I learned from Lord Rufton that my noble bearing
upon that evening was still fresh in the memory of my English
It is not, however, of my own exploits in sport that I wish to
speak to you to-night, but it is of the Lady Jane Dacre and the
strange adventure of which she was the cause. Lady Jane Dacre
was Lord Rufton's sister and the lady of his household. I fear
that until I came it was lonely for her, since she was a
beautiful and refined woman with nothing in common with those who
were about her. Indeed, this might be said of many women in the
England of those days, for the men were rude and rough and
coarse, with boorish habits and few accomplishments, while the
women were the most lovely and tender that I have ever known. We
became great friends, the Lady Jane and I, for it was not
possible for me to drink three bottles of port after dinner like
those Devonshire gentlemen, and so I would seek refuge in her
drawing-room, where evening after evening she would play the
harpsichord and I would sing the songs of my own land. In those
peaceful moments I would find a refuge from the misery which
filled me, when I reflected that my regiment was left in the
front of the enemy without the chief whom they had learned to
love and to follow.
Indeed, I could have torn my hair when I read in the English
papers of the fine fighting which was going on in Portugal and on
the frontiers of Spain, all of which I had missed through my
misfortune in falling into the hands of Milord Wellington.
From what I have told you of the Lady Jane you will have guessed
what occurred, my friends. Etienne Gerard is thrown into the
company of a young and beautiful woman. What must it mean for
him? What must it mean for her? It was not for me, the guest,
the captive, to make love to the sister of my host. But I was
I was discreet. I tried to curb my own emotions and to
discourage hers. For my own part I fear that I betrayed myself,
for the eye becomes more eloquent when the tongue is silent.
Every quiver of my fingers as I turned over her music-sheets told
her my secret. But she--she was admirable. It is in these
matters that women have a genius for deception. If I had not
penetrated her secret I should often have thought that she forgot
even that I was in the house. For hours she would sit lost in a
sweet melancholy, while I admired her pale face and her curls in
the lamp-light, and thrilled within me to think that I had moved
her so deeply. Then at last I would speak, and she would start
in her chair and stare at me with the most admirable pretence of
being surprised to find me in the room. Ah! how I longed to hurl
myself suddenly at her feet, to kiss her white hand, to assure
her that I had surprised her secret and that I would not abuse
But no, I was not her equal, and I was under her roof as a
castaway enemy. My lips were sealed. I endeavoured to imitate
her own wonderful affectation of indifference, but, as you may
think? I was eagerly alert for any opportunity of serving her.
One morning Lady Jane had driven in her phaeton to Okehampton,
and I strolled along the road which led to that place in the hope
that I might meet her on her return.
It was the early winter, and banks of fading fern sloped down to
the winding road. It is a bleak place this Dartmoor, wild and
rocky--a country of wind and mist.
I felt as I walked that it is no wonder Englishmen should suffer
from the spleen. My own heart was heavy within me, and I sat
upon a rock by the wayside looking out on the dreary view with my
thoughts full of trouble and foreboding. Suddenly, however, as I
glanced down the road, I saw a sight which drove everything else
from my mind, and caused me to leap to my feet with a cry of
astonishment and anger.
Down the curve of the road a phaeton was coming, the pony tearing
along at full gallop. Within was the very lady whom I had come
to meet. She lashed at the pony like one who endeavours to
escape from some pressing danger, glancing ever backward over her
shoulder. The bend of the road concealed from me what it was
that had alarmed her, and I ran forward not knowing what to
The next instant I saw the pursuer, and my amazement was
increased at the sight. It was a gentleman in the red coat of an
English fox-hunter, mounted on a great grey horse. He was
galloping as if in a race, and the long stride of the splendid
creature beneath him soon brought him up to the lady's flying
carriage. I saw him stoop and seize the reins of the pony, so as
to bring it to a halt. The next instant he was deep in talk with
the lady, he bending forward in his saddle and speaking eagerly,
she shrinking away from him as if she feared and loathed him.
You may think, my dear friends, that this was not a sight at
which I could calmly gaze. How my heart thrilled within me to
think that a chance should have been given to me to serve the
Lady Jane! I ran--oh, good Lord, how I ran! At last,
breathless, speechless, I reached the phaeton. The man glanced
up at me with his blue English eyes, but so deep was he in his
talk that he paid no heed to me, nor did the lady say a word.
She still leaned back, her beautiful pale face gazing up at him.
He was a good-looking fellow--tall, and strong, and brown; a pang
of jealousy seized me as I looked at him. He was talking low and
fast, as the English do when they are in earnest.
"I tell you, Jinny, it's you and only you that I love," said he.
"Don't bear malice, Jinny. Let by-gones be by-gones. Come now,
say it's all over."
"No, never, George, never!" she cried.
A dusky red suffused his handsome face. The man was furious.
"Why can't you forgive me, Jinny?"
"I can't forget the past."
"By George, you must! I've asked enough. It's time to order
now. I'll have my rights, d'ye hear?" His hand closed upon her
At last my breath had returned to me.
"Madame," I said, as I raised my hat, "do I intrude, or is there
any possible way in which I can be of service to you?"
But neither of them minded me any more than if I had been a fly
who buzzed between them. Their eyes were locked together.
"I'll have my rights, I tell you. I've waited long enough."
"There's no use bullying, George."
"Do you give in?"
"Is that your final answer?"
"Yes, it is."
He gave a bitter curse and threw down her hand.
"All right, my lady, we'll see about this."
"Excuse me, sir!" said I, with dignity.
"Oh, go to blazes!" he cried, turning on me with his furious
face. The next instant he had spurred his horse and was
galloping down the road once more.
Lady Jane gazed after him until he was out of sight, and I was
surprised to see that her face wore a smile and not a frown.
Then she turned to me and held out her hand.
"You are very kind, Colonel Gerard. You meant well, I am sure."
"Madame," said I, "if you can oblige me with the gentleman's name
and address I will arrange that he shall never trouble you
"No scandal, I beg of you," she cried.
"Madame, I could not so far forget myself. Rest assured that no
lady's name would ever be mentioned by me in the course of such
an incident. In bidding me to go to blazes this gentleman has
relieved me from the embarrassment of having to invent a cause of
"Colonel Gerard," said the lady, earnestly, "you must give me
your word as a soldier and a gentleman that this matter goes no
farther, and also that you will say nothing to my brother about
what you have seen. Promise me!"
"If I must."
"I hold you to your word. Now drive with me to High Combe, and I
will explain as we go."
The first words of her explanation went into me like a
"That gentleman," said she, "is my husband."
"You must have known that I was married." She seemed surprised
at my agitation.
"I did not know."
"This is Lord George Dacre. We have been married two years.
There is no need to tell you how he wronged me. I left him and
sought a refuge under my brother's roof. Up till to-day he has
left me there unmolested.
What I must above all things avoid is the chance of a duel
betwixt my husband and my brother. It is horrible to think of.
For this reason Lord Rufton must know nothing of this chance
meeting of to-day."
"If my pistol could free you from this annoyance ----"
"No, no, it is not to be thought of. Remember your promise,
Colonel Gerard. And not a word at High Combe of what you have
Her husband! I had pictured in my mind that she was a young
widow. This brown-faced brute with his "go to blazes" was the
husband of this tender dove of a woman. Oh, if she would but
allow me to free her from so odious an encumbrance! There is no
divorce so quick and certain as that which I could give her. But
a promise is a promise, and I kept it to the letter. My mouth
In a week I was to be sent back from Plymouth to St. Malo, and it
seemed to me that I might never hear the sequel of the story.
And yet it was destined that it should have a sequel and that I
should play a very pleasing and honourable part in it.
It was only three days after the event which I have described
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