The Young Buglers
Part 3 out of 6
in pursuit, and drove some 4000 of these cowards back to their lines.
Seeing the wild confusion which was raging on the allies' right,
Victor resolved, although evening was at hand, to make a sudden dash
upon the hill upon their left, which, held only by Donkin's brigade,
was the key of the position. The hill was very steep upon the front,
or French side, while towards the rear it sloped gradually. Ruffin's
division was ordered to the attack, followed by Villette in support,
while Lapisse was ordered to engage the German legion, which was on
the left of Sherbrooke's division.
Hill's division was lying down behind the hill when Ruffin's troops
advanced to the attack. There was no expectation of an attack that
evening, and the woods and increasing darkness covered the movements
of the French troops. Weary and hungry, the English soldiers,
disgusted at the inhuman neglect of the Spaniards, and furious
at their cowardice, were chatting over the events of the day and
discussing the chances, by no means bright, of the expected battle
to-morrow. All that day they had had no food whatever save a small
portion of grain, served out raw and unground. Tom and Peter had been
chatting with the officers, who were grouped under a tree, when Sambo
came up to them and beckoned them aside.
"Look here, Massa Tom, here six eggs; tree for you, tree for Massa
"Thank you, Sam, that is capital; but you know you will get into a row
if you get caught taking things."
"Me no take 'em, massa. Old hen give them to me."
"How was that, Sam?"
"Well, Massa, me saw her sitting on nest. Me went up and said to her,
'Give me some eggs, old girl.' She say 'Cluck.' I says, 'Cluck means
yes, I suppose?' She say 'Cluck' again. Clear 'nuff that, so me take
eggs, eat tree, bring six, young massa."
"I am afraid, Sam," Tom said, laughing, "your story would hardly save
you from the triangles, if you had been caught. However, as it is rude
to return a present, of course you cannot take them back to the hen. I
suppose they are raw?"
"Yes, massa; no good make fire; make hole bofe ends, suck 'em."
"All right, Sam; it is not the nicest way, but, under the
circumstances, perhaps it is the best; at any rate, I am too hungry to
wait till we can get a fire lighted."
So saying, the boys sucked the raw eggs, and then joined the men,
when, just as they did so, first a dropping rifle shot, and then a
perfect roar of musketry broke out upon the hill above them. It needed
no order to be given. The men fell into their places and prepared to
climb the hill and assist Donkin's brigade, which was evidently unable
alone to resist the attack. Knapsacks were thrown off, firelocks
tightly grasped, and the regiment impatiently awaited orders to
advance. None were more impatient than the colonel, who after a few
minutes, seeing by the fire that the English were falling back, and
that the French had gained the crest of the hill, waited no longer for
orders, but gave the word for the regiment to advance. They were but
half way up the hill when General Hill himself galloped down to meet
them, and then turning, led the way beside Colonel Tritton.
General Hill had had a narrow escape. Donkin had repulsed the French
who attacked him in front, but his force was insufficient to guard the
whole crest of the hill. Consequently, the enemy had come up round
his flank, and were now in actual possession of the crest. General
Hill, ignorant of this, had ridden with his brigade-major right
into the midst of the French before he found out his mistake. His
brigade-major, Fordyce, was killed, his own horse wounded, and his
bridle seized by a French grenadier. He had, however, broken away, and
had ridden off under a storm of bullets.
With a cheer the Norfolk Rangers followed their gallant leader. They
reached the crest, poured a tremendous volley into the enemy, and
charged with the bayonet. The French, of whom but a small portion
had as yet gained the crest, were unable to resist the impetuous
onslaught, and at once gave way.
The Rangers were now joined by the 48th and the 29th, so that these,
with Donkin's brigade, formed a strong body of troops. The French,
who had fallen back, now united with their main body, and the attack
was renewed with all the force of Ruffin's division. The heavy mass
pressed upwards, in spite of the destructive fire of the British, and
were within twenty yards of the crest, when, with a hearty cheer, the
English troops burst upon them with the bayonet, and the French again
fell back, broken and disheartened.
This ended the fighting on the 27th of July. Long lines of bivouac
fires soon blazed upon either side. The wounded were carried down the
hill to the field-hospital, which had been erected under its cover,
and the men, eating their scanty supper, wrapped themselves in their
great coats, and were soon asleep. The officers chatted for a short
time longer, but as all were tired, and the next day was sure to be a
severe one, they, too, soon lay down by their fire.
When morning broke, it was seen that the enemy had massed a large
force of artillery upon a hill just opposite to the one held by the
English. Soon afterwards Ruffin's division, as before supported by
Villette, advanced to the attack, covered by the tremendous fire from
his artillery. The British had no adequate force of artillery to reply
to the iron storm, and the balls swept through their lines, mowing
down their ranks, and causing great loss. The regiments in reserve lay
down to avoid the iron shower, while the Rangers and 48th prepared to
resist the French when they came within fighting distance.
As their men approached the summit of the hill, the French artillery
was obliged to cease playing in that direction, and turned its
attention to the British center, while a fierce musketry contest took
place between the French and Hill and Donkin's men.
The ground was rough, and the troops on both sides, broken up into
small bodies, fought desperately. General Hill was wounded, and the
British troops fell fast. The French, however, suffered even more,
and, as Hill brought up his reserve, the English gained ground foot by
foot, until they drove them again down the steep side of the hill. As
the French retired, their artillery once more opened fire to cover
A pause now ensued; the French in this brief contest had lost 1400
men, and the British had suffered severely. The French then held a
council of war, and determined to attack along the whole line in
force. Hours passed away; the English munched their corn, smoked their
pipes, and watched the enemy scattered over the plain. The weather
was very hot, and the men of both sides went down to a little stream
which divided their positions, drank, and filled their water-bottles
in perfect amity. Some of the officers, who spoke French conversed
with the French officers, exchanged cigars for brandy, and joked and
laughed as if they had been the best of friends.
At one o'clock the French drums were heard to beat, and the men were
soon formed in order. Tom and Peter stood with a group of officers on
the brow of the hill. Nothing could be finer than the sight. Far away
the view stretched over the country, thickly wooded, and with château
and farm-houses scatted here and there. Through the trees the dense
masses of the French could be seen, as they moved in columns towards
the positions from which they were to attack. Upon an eminence,
nearly opposite to their position, the boys could see a long line of
the French artillery. Far away, to the right, rose the churches of
Talavera, while behind the hill were the British and Spanish cavalry,
ready to charge should the French endeavor to turn the British left by
pushing round its foot. Fifty paces from the officers of the Norfolk
Rangers sat Sir Arthur Wellesley, on horseback, watching attentively
through a field-glass the movements of the enemy, and at a short
distance behind him were his staff. The British troops were standing
in easy order, a little behind the crest of the hill, so as to be
sheltered from the artillery fire with which the French were sure to
cover the advance of their column of attack.
"This is a grand sight, Peter," Tom said, "but I wish they would
begin; it makes one fidgety waiting for it."
Scarcely had Tom spoken when, as if in answer to his wish, a series
of jets of white smoke puffed out from the opposite hill, and two or
three seconds later came the thunder of eighty guns, and the whizzing
sound of as many balls. Instinctively the group drew back a pace, but
it was not upon them that this tremendous fire was opened. It was
directed against the right of the British line, and almost at the same
moment a cloud of skirmishers appeared among the trees, followed by
the dark columns of Sebastiani's division.
Upon these the English guns at once opened fire; but rushing forward
with their usual impetuosity, they cleared away the obstacles which
had been raised across the British front, and charged with fury
against the British position. Campbell's division, however, assisted
by Mackenzie's brigade and two Spanish battalions, stood firm, and
driving back the skirmishers, advanced in line, cheering loudly. The
head of the French column withered away under their tremendous fire,
and, pushing forward, they overlapped it, and drove them back with
terrible loss, capturing ten guns. Then Campbell prudently recalled
his men to their first position, and the British artillery, which had
necessarily been silent while friend and foe were mingled together,
opened furiously upon the French as they tried to re-form upon their
supports. A Spanish cavalry regiment dashed down upon their flank, and
they retired again in great disorder.
Every incident of the fight could be seen from the British position on
the hill, and the troops almost held their breath with excitement as
the British lines clashed against the head of the French column, and a
loud shout of triumph burst out spontaneously as the French broke and
But it was now the turn of the left. Already Villette's division,
preceded by the Grenadiers and supported by Ruffin's division, was
advancing, and the British cavalry were ordered to charge them. The
ground was, however, quite unfit for cavalry. Colonel Arentschild, a
very experienced officer, who commanded the German Hussars, drew up
his regiment at the edge of a deep cleft which crossed their front,
and refused to take his men to certain destruction. The 23d Dragoons,
however, dashed into the ravine. Men and horses rolled over in all
directions; still, they got across, and, charging furiously between
the French infantry regiments, which poured in a terrible fire,
fell upon a brigade of Chasseurs in their rear. Victor sent up his
Polish lancers and Westphalian light horse to the assistance of the
Chasseurs, who already outnumbered the 23d, and this gallant regiment
was completely broken, the survivors escaping to the shelter of
Bassecourt's Spanish division, which lay beyond the hill, having lost
257 men and officers.
Tom and Peter did not see this disastrous affair, for on the approach
of the enemy's column they fell into their places in the ranks. It
was, however, in vain that the French tried to gain the crest of the
hill, their efforts at this point being indeed far more feeble than
they had been either in the morning or upon the previous night. It was
in the center that their great effort was made. Here Lapisse threw his
division against that of Sherbrooke, and, covered by his own artillery
and by the guns upon the hill, charged right up to the position. The
British, however, repulsed them, and the guards, carried away by the
excitement of the moment, followed them with reckless ardor. The
French reserves of infantry and cavalry came up, the artillery plied
the British with shot and shell, the fugitives rallied and again came
to the attack, and the Guards fell back in confusion. The Germans next
to them, severely pressed, began to waver, and for a time it seemed
that the British, victorious upon both flanks, were yet to lose the
battle by being broken in the center.
Now, however, the 48th, which Sir Arthur had ordered down from the
hill when he saw the rash advance of the Guards, was seen advancing
in line through the disordered masses. Wheeling back, it allowed the
retreating regiments to pass through it and then again formed and fell
upon the flank of the victorious French column. The French paused in
their advance, the Guards and Germans rallied and came back again to
the fight, the shots of the British guns plowed lines in the column,
the French wavered, and, as the British light cavalry trotted up with
the intention of charging them, fell back, and drew off to their
first position amidst shouts of victory along the whole length of the
Thus the battle ceased, each party occupying the ground it had held in
the morning. The British loss in killed, wounded, and missing, in the
two days' fighting, was 6200; that of the French 7400. Had the British
been in a condition to have sallied from their position and pursued
the retiring enemy, the victory would have had far greater results;
but, exhausted and half-starved, the British were incapable of
following up their advantage.
The next morning at daybreak, the French army quitted its position,
and, retiring across the Alberche, formed line of battle there, and
awaited the attack, should the English take the offensive. This they
were in no position to do, although in the course of the day Craufurd
had come up with the 43d, 52d, and 95th Regiments. These three
regiments had heard of the first day's fighting from the Spanish
fugitives, and had marched with all speed to the assistance of their
friends. They had, carrying their kit and ammunition, weighing from 50
lb. to 60 lb., actually marched sixty-two miles in twenty-six hours in
the hottest season of the year, one of the greatest feats recorded in
The Rangers had suffered heavily, and in the two days' fighting had
lost thirty-eight killed and 109 wounded. Among the former were two
officers, while several others were wounded. The Scudamores had,
fortunately, both escaped without a scratch. The inhumanity of the
Spaniards was now more markedly shown than ever. Although both in
Cuesta's army, and in the town of Talavera provisions were abundant,
yet the inhabitants carefully concealed them, while both the wounded
and fighting men of the British army were in want. So great was the
misery and indignation of the soldiers at this shameful treatment,
from those for whom they were doing so much, that they would willingly
have attacked the Spanish army and plundered the town; and from this
period to the end of the war the British hated the Spanish with a deep
and bitter hatred.
Wellesley now received news that Soult had crossed the mountains
through the pass of Banos, which had been left undefended by the
Spanish, and was marching upon his rear. Believing that Soult had only
13,000 men with him--whereas in fact, he had 50,000--Sir Arthur left
the Spanish army at Talavera in charge of the hospitals, with 6000
sick and wounded, and retraced his steps, with the intention of giving
battle to this new enemy.
Upon the 3d, however, he learned the real strength of Soult's army,
and upon the same day heard that General Cuesta had basely retreated
from Talavera, without having provided any transport whatever,
according to his promise, for the British sick and wounded. All of
these who had strength to crawl rejoined the British army, but 1500,
who were unable to walk, were left behind, and fell into the hands
of the French, by whom they were treated with far greater kindness
and attention than they had been by the Spanish. Upon the 4th Cuesta
joined Sir Arthur, and at six o'clock next morning the only possible
course for safety was adopted. Victor was advancing from Talavera,
Soult was hurrying from Placentia to cut off the retreat of the
British, and accordingly Sir Arthur fell back upon Arzobispo, on the
The artillery, the baggage and wounded, first crossed the bridge, and
at two o'clock the entire army was across. So great was the hunger of
the men that a herd of swine happening to be seen close to the line
of march, the soldiers ran upon them, shot and bayoneted them, and
devoured them raw. Taking up a strong position, guarding the bridges
of the Tagus, the British army remained quiet until the end of August.
During this time they became so weakened by starvation that they could
scarcely walk; a great portion of the cavalry horses, and nearly all
the baggage animals died of hunger, and at last, Sir Arthur, finding
that no remonstrances availed with the Junta, fell back again to the
Portuguese frontier by slow marches, for the army was so utterly
enfeebled that it resembled a vast body of invalids, rather than an
army of unbeaten soldiers.
A PAUSE IN OPERATIONS.
Talavera was fought in July, 1809, and for four months longer Sir
Arthur Wellesley kept his troops on the Spanish frontier, where his
presence served as a check against any invasion, even by a very
formidable army, of Portugal. After the utter bad faith and cowardice
shown by the Spanish, the great commander was determined never again
to trust in their promises, or to undertake any movement dependent
for success upon their co-operation. The Junta then declared that
the Spaniards would alone and unaided sweep the French beyond the
Pyrenees, and a Spanish army of 45,000 infantry, 7000 cavalry, and 60
guns advanced in November against Madrid. It was met by a French army
of 24,000 infantry, 5000 cavalry, and 50 guns. The battle began at
eleven in the morning, and by three the French, with a loss of only
1700 killed and wounded, had utterly routed the Spanish, with a loss
of 5000 killed and wounded, 45 guns, and 26,000 prisoners! After this
signal and disgraceful defeat, Lord Wellington--for he had now been
raised to the peerage--felt that nothing whatever could be done at
present in Spain, and so fell back into Portugal, where for many
months he occupied himself in preparing to meet the storm which would,
he knew, fall ere long upon that country. The Portuguese authorities
were as incapable, as untrustworthy, and as intractable as were those
of Spain; but here, happily, Lord Wellington had more power. England
was paying large subsidies towards keeping up the Portuguese army,
which was commanded by Lord Beresford, having under him many British
officers. The Portuguese troops were hardy, obedient, and far braver
than the Spaniards; but difficulties often arose in keeping the army
together, because the Portuguese Government, although England was
paying the principal expenses of the army, yet starved their soldiers,
and often kept them for months without pay. It was only by the
strongest remonstrances, and by the oft-repeated threat that he would
embark the British troops, and abandon Portugal altogether, unless
these and other abuses were done away with, that Lord Wellington
succeeded in reducing this incapable and insolent Government to
Reinforcements arrived but slowly from England, for a considerable
portion of the available troops of England were frittered away in
holding Cadiz and in an expedition to Sicily. In these two places some
25,000 English troops were wasted--a force, which, had it been added
to Wellington's army, would have enabled him to take the field against
the French, instead of being forced to remain in Portugal for upwards
of a year without discharging a single shot against the enemy. Tom and
Peter Scudamore, however, were not destined to remain inactive all
these weary months. One day in November, just before the army fell
back from the Spanish frontier, General Hill was dining at mess with
the regiment; for, rough as was the accommodation, the officers had
succeeded in establishing a general mess. The conversation turned upon
the difficulty of discovering what force the various French generals
had at their disposal, the reports received by the Commander-in-Chief
being often ridiculously incorrect. There was also an immense
difficulty in communicating with the guerilla chiefs who, almost
always beaten when they came to blows with any considerable bodies
of the French, yet managed to harass them terribly by cutting off
convoys, falling upon small parties, and attacking outposts and bands
of foragers. Knowing every mountain pass and road, these men could,
if they would, keep Lord Wellington informed of every considerable
movement of the enemy, and might in return receive instruction for
acting, when required, in concert before the communication of an
advancing army, or might create a diversion by uniting their bands,
and threatening some important post.
The next day the boys went to Colonel Tritton's quarters, and,
referring to the conversation of the day before, said that they were
willing to carry any messages that the general might require sent, and
to obtain any information wanted.
"Nonsense, boys, you would be hung as spies before you had been gone a
"I don't think so, sir," Tom said; "we have had very little to do
during the six months we have been out here except to learn the
language of the country, and I think now we could pass very well as
Spanish boys. Besides, who would suspect boys? We are quite ready to
chance detection if we can be allowed to go."
"I don't like it, boys; you are too young. Well, if not too young," he
said, in answer to a movement of Tom's to speak, "we all like you too
well to run the risk of hearing you have been hung like a couple of
"You are very kind, colonel; but you know you promised to give us a
chance if you could, and having a chance of course means having extra
danger; but I really don't think that there would be any great danger
"Well, boys," Colonel Tritton said, after a few moments' thought, "I
do not feel justified in refusing your application, and will mention
it to General Hill. There are very few officers in the army who
speak Spanish fluently, and you being boys would, as you say, avert
suspicion. But I tell you fairly that I hope General Hill will at once
refuse to entertain the idea."
"Thank you, sir," the boys said. "Of course that is all we could ask
you to do."
The next day, after parade was over, Colonel Tritton walked on
to General Hill's quarters at a sort of half farm-house, half
country-seat, a short distance from the village, round which the
Rangers were encamped. As he came up to the house, General Hill came
out from his door talking to a Spanish officer, who had the day before
brought some despatches from one of the Spanish generals to Lord
Colonel Tritton joined them, and they stood talking together upon the
state of affairs in Spain, and of the advance of the Spanish army on
Madrid, which was then just taking place. As they did so two very
ragged, unkempt Spanish boys, shoeless and wretched-looking, limped
up, and began to beg. General Hill shook his head, and the Spaniard
impatiently motioned them away.
"Por Dios," one whined; "give us something; we are starving. The
French have burnt down our houses, and killed our fathers and
mothers--we are starving. 'Por l'amor de Dios!'"
"What's the poor little beggar say?" General Hill asked the Spaniard.
"The usual story--house burnt, father and mother killed, starving. I
dare say it's all a lie."
"Where did you live?" he asked in Spanish.
"In the village of Oros, near Valencia."
"And how did you come here?"
"The French burnt the village because the guerillas had killed a party
of theirs in it, and they killed all the people, and then carried off
the mules and horses, and took us to drive some of them. That was four
months ago. We had to drive till the other day at Tamanes, when our
men beat the French; our mules were taken, and, as they did not want
us as drivers we had nothing to do but to come on in hopes that the
kind English would give us food."
The Spanish officer translated what the boy said, and General Hill
remarked, "Yes, that was a brilliant affair of the Duke del Pasque's.
Here," he called to an orderly, "give these boys some bread. I will
see what can be done for them afterwards. I am afraid nothing. Poor
little wretches! their story is a very common one."
The boys received the bread with a great show of thankfulness, and,
sitting down by the roadside, began to munch it with great appetite.
The Spanish officer now mounted his horse and rode off, while General
Hill and Colonel Tritton remained standing where he had left them.
Colonel Tritton then told General Hill of the Scudamores' request to
be allowed to penetrate into Spain as spies or with dispatches.
"The young pickles!" General Hill laughed. "What will they be wanting
to do next? Pooh, pooh! it would be out of the question."
"I believe they do really speak Spanish exceedingly well." Colonel
Tritton said. "They generally act as interpreters for us, and none of
the officers speak Spanish with anything like the same fluency."
"As far as the language goes, they might get on, perhaps," General
Hill said; "but they look as thorough English boys as you could see.
They would be detected at once."
"Yes," Colonel Tritton said, "they are both thorough English boys; I
should know them anywhere. What a contrast to the miserable, limping,
hang-dog lads there! Poor little chaps! Why, upon my word, I believe
the fellows are laughing."
General Hill looked sharply at them, and, as he looked from one to the
other, he said sarcastically, "Poor little chaps indeed! You said that
very naturally, Tritton. It really does you credit as an actor."
Colonel Tritton looked at the general with an expression of blank
"What," said the general, "were you really taken in too"
"Taken in?" repeated Colonel Tritton vaguely.
"Don't you see, Tritton, those poor little chaps you are pitying so
are those two young scamps we were talking about."
Colonel Tritton stared in astonishment at the boys, and then, as he
recognized them, he joined the general in a shout of laughter, while
the two boys stood up and saluted with an attempt at gravity which was
only partially successful, so amused were they at the astonishment of
their colonel, as well as pleased at the success of their disguise.
Just at this moment there was a sound of tramping horses, and directly
afterwards an officer rode up, followed by four or five others, and
at a short distance in the rear by an escort of orderlies. The boys
needed not the exclamation of General Hill, "Here is Wellington." They
knew who the rider was, who checked his horse as he reached the gate,
for they had often seen him as he rode through the camp. A slight man,
very careful and neat in his dress, with an aquiline nose and piercing
eyes. Peter was rising as he drew up his horse, when Tom said, "Don't
get up, Peter; go on with your bread. It would look absurd for us
to salute now, and would draw attention to us," he went on, as Lord
Wellington dismounted, threw the bridle off his horse to an orderly,
and saying to General Hill, "I wanted to see you; come in." Colonel
Tritton went into the house, followed by the two officers. "We'll
stop here till they come out again, Peter. Perhaps General Hill may
speak to him about us. At any rate, we will keep up our disguise till
they've gone. Let us play at odd and even." It was a game of which
Spanish boys are very fond, and they may be seen in any of the Spanish
towns sitting by the houses on door-steps in the sun playing. It was
half an hour before the general came out again. He was about to mount
his horse, when he glanced at the boys, who were sitting against the
wall a few paces off, seemingly absorbed in their play, and paying no
attention whatever to him. Suddenly he changed his mind, dropped his
rein, and walked up to them.
"What are you playing for?" he asked abruptly in Spanish.
"Reals, señor," Tom said looking up, but not moving.
"You are poor; how can you pay?" asked the general.
"Oh! we don't pay," Tom laughed. "We keep count. I owe him twelve
thousand now. I will pay him when I get rich. He can wait." And he
held out his closed hand again for Peter to guess the number of stones
"Come inside," Lord Wellington said abruptly, and, turning led the way
into the house again, followed by General Hill, Colonel Tritton, and
the two boys.
"It is not often I change my mind," he said to General Hill; "but for
once I do so now. When you told me about these lads, I refused to
employ them on such dangerous service, even when you told me of the
courage and coolness which they exhibited on the voyage. Now I have
tried them myself, I see that they will do. If they could keep up
their disguise when I spoke to them suddenly, and answer without
hesitation or any excitement which could have shown that they were
not what they pretended to be, they can do so with a French general.
I am no judge of the purity of their Spanish; but as you tell me they
deceived a Spanish officer just now, they will be able to pass with
Frenchmen. Now, lads," he went on turning to them, "you have thought
over, of course, the risks you are going to run, and are prepared, if
detected, to be hung like dogs." The boys bowed.
"You will receive detailed instructions through Colonel Tritton,
together with such despatches as I may wish sent. They will be written
as small as possible. You will not go for a week; devote all your time
to studying the map. The largest size we have shall be sent to your
colonel this afternoon. Of course you will be supplied with money, and
for anything you can think of likely to assist you, speak to Colonel
Tritton. You are beginning well, young sirs. If you like, you ought to
made a noise in the world. Now, Hill, I must be off."
And the general left the room with the officers, while the boys were
stammering out their thanks.
"Where did you dress up, boys?" Colonel Tritton asked them after the
general had ridden off. "You did not come out from camp like this I
"No, colonel; we changed in that little wood there."
"What have you colored your skins with?"
"We got some iodine from the doctor, sir, and mixed it with water till
it was just thick enough to tinge our skin. It will wash pretty well
off with plenty of scrubbing, but we mean to use walnut juice when we
start; it lasts much longer, and is a better brown."
"I am not sure, boys, that you had not better leave your faces alone,
they and your hands are so sunburnt that you would pass well enough,
though you must dye your arms and legs. Fortunately, your hair is
pretty dark, for you can't well carry dye. Think well over all these
things, for your lives may depend on some trifle of this kind. I shall
see you at mess."
So saying, Colonel Tritton walked on, leaving the boys to follow at
their leisure. Just as they were about to turn off to make for the
woods they saw a soldier coming along the road.
"That's Sam, if I am not mistaken, Peter, we will have some fun with
him. We can trust him to say nothing in the regiment about meeting us
The two boys accordingly sat down by a low wall by the roadside, and
as Sam came up talked away to each other in Spanish. He passed without
paying any attention to them. After he had gone a few yards, Tom said
in a deep, loud voice, "Sambo." The black halted suddenly, and turned
round. First he looked angrily at the boys, then he went to the side
of the road and looked over the wall. Then with a very perplexed air
he looked up and down the road.
"Who dat have impudence to call dis colored gentleman Sambo," he said
to himself. "Some fellow did, dat for sartin, not dose little Spanish
trash, dey not know Sam's name, some rascal in regiment; he's hid
somewhere. I pound him to squash when I find him."
Muttering thus he turned to proceed on his way, but before he had gone
twenty yards, he again heard a deep shout. "Here, you, Sambo."
The black jumped as if he was shot, "My golly," he exclaimed, and then
walked back to the boys, who were talking together, shook his head
and again looked over the wall. Then he stooped down to the boys, and
shook his fist in their faces, "You little debils, you call Sambo, I
pound you to squash." The boys both leapt to their feet with an air of
intense surprise and alarm, and began to cry out in Spanish.
"No, can't be you," Sam said, "dis chile must be witched, no place for
men to hide, sartin not dem boys. Stone wall can't call Sambo all by
self, Sam's going out of mind. Oh! Lor, dis berry bad affair," and Sam
sat down by the roadside with a face of such perfect bewilderment and
dismay that the boys could stand it no longer, but went off together
into a scream of laughter, which caused Sam to jump to his feet again.
"What you larf for, what you larf for, you little rascals, you play
trick, eh? you call Sambo, who taught you dat name?" and he seized the
two boys and shook them furiously.
"Oh! Sam, Sam, you will kill us with laughing," Tom got out at last.
"Do leave go, man, or we shall choke," and as Sam, astonished, loosed
his hold, the boys sat down and laughed till their sides ached.
"Golly," exclaimed the negro, as he looked at them, "Dose boys again.
What on earth you do, Massa Tom, Massa Peter, in dose ragged close,
what you dress up like two beggars for? Lor! how you take in dis
chile, me tink you little Spanish trash, sure enuff." It was some time
before the boys could compose themselves, and then Tom made Sam sit
close by his side.
"Look here, Sam, this isn't a joke, this is a serious business and
before I tell you anything about it, you must promise to keep the
secret strictly, as it would do us a great deal of harm if it was
known." Sam declared at once that if they tore him to pieces with wild
horses he would say nothing. Tom then explained the whole thing to him
and Sam at once declared that he would go too.
"Quite impossible, Sam. You do not speak a word of Spanish and
although at any of the seaport towns you could pass as a runaway
sailor, there could be no possible reason for your wandering about the
country with two Spanish boys."
Sam thought for some time. "Now dat berry unlucky Massa Tom, dat Sam
play big drum. Big drum fine music, but big drum not go well by self.
If Sam had played fiddle, Sam could go, but Sam couldn't go nohow with
"I should think not, Sam, with the name of the regiment painted on it.
No, no, you must stay behind. There won't be any fighting now till the
spring, and by that time we shall be back with the regiment."
"But what you do without Sam? who black Massa's boots? who brush his
Tom laughed. "These clothes would fall all to pieces, if they were
brushed much, Sam, and at present we have no boots to be blacked."
"Where you get dose clothes, Massa Tom," Sam asked, examining with
great disgust the rags the boys had on.
"We bought some peasant's clothes about our size, and the first beggar
boys we saw we offered to exchange. You should have seen their faces
of astonishment. When we got the clothes we made them into a bundle,
and took them to the bakehouse, and got the baker to put them into
the oven for a few hours to kill anything there might be in them.
Now, Sam, it is time for us to be going. It will take us an hour's
scrubbing to get the color off us. Be sure you keep our secret."
WITH THE GUERILLAS.
It was on a fine morning at the end of March that a cortége of
muleteers and mules left the little town of Alonqua. It was now four
months since the Scudamores left the army, and in the intervening time
they had tramped through a large portion of Spain. They had carried
with them only a dozen or so little despatches done up in tiny rolls
of the length and about the thickness of a bodkin, These were sewn
inside the lining of their coats, in the middle of the cloth where
it was doubled in at the seams, so that, even were the clothes to be
examined carefully and felt all over, the chances of detection were
slight indeed. They had each, on starting, half a dozen pieces of
Spanish gold coin sewn between the thicknesses of leather of the soles
of each of their shoes, for they did not start in the beggar clothes
in which they had first disguised themselves. Their clothes were,
indeed, worn and somewhat patched, but were of stout material, and
they wore shoes, but no stockings. They had, indeed, the appearance of
Spanish boys of the peasant class. The weather in the north of Spain
is often very cold in winter, and the boys felt that, with rags and
bare feet, they should suffer severely. All that they had to say and
do had been learned by heart. The names and addresses of the agents
of the British Government at every town had been laboriously learned
before starting, and, as Peter said ruefully, it was worse than a
dozen Greek impositions.
At each place of any importance they would find the person to whom
they were instructed to apply, would accost him with some password,
and would be put up by him while they remained there. When they had
gained the intelligence they required--of the number of French troops
in the place and its neighborhood, a knowledge always obtained by
going round, counting the men on parade, or, in the case of small
villages, finding out easily enough from a peasant the number,
quartered there, they would write a report on the number the
intentions as far as they could learn them, the amount of food
in store, and the sentiments of the population, would enclose
the despatch in a goose-quill and give it to their host, who was
responsible for forwarding it.
In a great number of cases, indeed, the man to whom they were
accredited was a muleteer. These men hated the French with a hatred
even more deep and deadly than that of other Spaniards, for, in
addition to the national causes of hatred, their mules were constantly
being requisitioned or seized by the troops and they themselves forced
to accompany the army for long distances at a nominal rate of pay for
themselves and their animals. Then, too, they were in close connection
with the guerillas, for whom they carried goods up into the mountains
from the towns, and when the chance came would leave their animals in
the mountains and join in cutting off an enemy's convoy. They acted as
messengers and spies too, and took their friends in the hills early
news of intended movements of the enemy. Many a day had the boys
traveled in the company of these muleteers, merry, careless fellows,
singing and talking to their mules, apparently the best-natured of
men, until something would be said which would recall the hated foe,
and then their black eyes would flash, their fingers clutch their
knife-handles, and they would pour out long strings of deep Spanish
oaths. Great was the surprise of these men on receiving the password
from two boys, but they never hesitated an instant in taking them in,
in giving them hospitality as long as they remained, and in either
accompanying them to the next town, or handing them over to the charge
of some comrade going in that direction. Not even to them did the
Scudamores ever betray that they were not what they were taken to be,
two Spanish boys employed by the English commander as messengers.
Often they were questioned how the English had come to entrust
important communications to two boys, and their reply always was that
their father and mother had fled to Portugal from the French, and were
living there near the English lines, and that they had offered their
lives in case of their sons' treachery.
This system of hostages seemed probable enough to their questioners,
and if the boys' fare was rather harder, and their treatment more
unceremonious than it would have been had they said that they were
British officers in disguise, they ran far less risk of detection
from an accidental word or sign. Indeed it would have been next to
impossible for them, had they desired it, to convince any one of their
identity. There was no fear now of their accent betraying them. Since
they had left the army they had never, even when alone together,
spoken in English. They made the rule and kept to it for two reasons,
the one being that they found that if they did not get into this habit
of always speaking Spanish, they might inadvertently address each
other in English, and thus betray themselves; the second, that they
wanted to learn to speak absolutely like natives. This they had in the
four months thoroughly learned to do. At first their pronunciation
and occasional mistakes excited curiosity when asked questions as
to the part of Spain from which they had come, but their constant
communication with their muleteer friends had quite removed this, and
for the last two months not one person had doubted that they were not
only Spanish, but that they came from the northern provinces.
Hitherto they had journeyed principally between large towns and over
country held by the French, but that part of their work was finished;
they had accurately computed the number of the army with which Massena
was to advance shortly to besiege Ciudad Rodrigo, and they had now to
carry the despatches to the guerilla leaders. Hitherto they had not in
a single instance excited suspicion. Not a Frenchman had asked them
a question, and no adventure of anything like an exciting nature had
taken place. They were now, however, entering into a country entirely
different from that which they had hitherto traversed. The northeast
of Spain is wild and mountainous, and offers immense natural
facilities for irregular warfare. Through the various passes of the
Pyrenees lead all the roads from France, whether to Vittoria on the
great road to Madrid, or through Navarre to Catalonia. Here and there
fortified towns still held out against the French, and the town of
Gerona, in Catalonia, had only fallen after a six months' regular
siege, and a desperate defense which fully rivals that of Saragossa.
Is it not a little singular that the Spaniards, who in the open field
were, with a few remarkable exceptions, absolutely contemptible, yet
frequently defended towns with wonderful fortitude, courage, and
desperation. It may, indeed, be said that in every siege where the
Spaniards were commanded by brave and resolute chiefs they behaved
admirably. This great range of hill country was the stronghold of the
guerillas, and every convoy from France had to be protected by a large
force, and even then often suffered greatly from the harassing attacks
of their active enemies.
The bands of the guerilla chiefs differed greatly in strength, varying
from merely ten or a dozen men to three or four thousand, and indeed
each band varied continually. The men, when not required, would
scatter to their homes, cultivate their little patches of ground, and
throw down the spade and take up the rifle again when they heard of a
convoy to cut off, or an invading column to beat back. The bands, too,
would vary in proportion to the renown of their chiefs. An energetic
man, who, at the head of a handful, had performed some daring feats,
would find himself a week afterwards the leader of many hundreds,
while a chief who was slow and dilatory would find his band melt away
like snow in summer.
The character of the warfare depended much upon the character of the
French generals. A few of these kept the troops under their command
sternly in hand, would permit no plundering, and insisted upon their
fair treatment of the Spaniards. These in turn wanted nothing better
than to remain quietly in their homes, and the guerilla bands would
melt away to nothing. Other generals, furious at the savage nature
of the warfare, and the incessant toil and loss entailed upon their
troops, allowed the latter to do as they pleased, and burning houses
and dead bodies marked their course. Then the peasantry, now turned
guerillas, retaliated as savagely, giving no quarter, sacrificing all
prisoners, and putting the wounded to death, sometimes with torture.
On both sides horrible atrocities were committed.
The guerillas were armed partly with rifles and carbines, partly with
muskets landed on the coast by the British Government, who also, from
time to time, sent powder and money to assist them to continue their
resistance to the French. Although nowhere really formidable, yet,
being scattered over a great extent of country, these bands occupied
very large bodies of French troops, who would otherwise have
been disposable for general operations in the field. The English
commander-in-chief had, of course, no shadow of authority over the
guerillas, or, indeed, over any of the Spanish troops, and his
communication to them simply asked what arms and ammunition they
required, and begged them to send him a list of the number of men they
could each throw on the French communications and lines of retreat in
case he should find himself in a position to make a general advance
against them. He also recommended most strongly the bearers of the
despatch to their care. It was to the chief known as Nunez that they
were now bound. The mule train was nominally destined for Vittoria, to
which town the leader had got a pass, specifying the number of mules
and the nature of the goods they carried, from the French commandant
at Alonqua, for no one was allowed to take the goods about the country
without a pass, in order to prevent supplies being forwarded to the
mountains. This pass, however, only mentioned twelve mules with four
drivers, and this was the number which started from Alonqua. Another
score of mules, however, joined them at a short distance from the town
where a by-road turned off. Some of these had gone out from the town
unloaded, as if taken out to graze, others had not entered the town,
but had come direct from the sea-coast by by-paths with powder, and
had been awaiting the departure of Garcias, the name of the leader of
the party. They had eight men with them, all armed to the teeth.
"Is it all right, Garcias?"
"All right," the leader said; "they have sent out their squadrons on
the other road, so I think we are safe for to-day."
"What boys have you got there with you?"
"They have business with Nunez; letter from the coast."
The cavalcade was now in motion again, and wound gradually up into the
hills. Presently they came to a point where four roads met. A clump of
trees grew hard by, and the boys gave a start of horror at seeing the
bodies of six French soldiers swinging from them. "Ay, that's Nunez's
work, I expect," Garcias said coolly. "There were three of his men
swinging there last week, so as a lesson he has hung up six of the
French. He is a rough boy to play with, is Nunez."
At sunset the party slept in a small farm, and at daybreak continued
their journey. They were now in the heart of the mountains, and their
path lay sometimes up deep ravines, sometimes along rocky ledges.
At last, about midday, they entered a valley in which stood a small
village. "That's Nunez's head-quarters to-day," Garcias said;
"to-morrow he may be no one knows where."
"But does he have to sally out by the wretched road by which we have
come?" Tom asked.
"No, no," Garcias replied; "he would not catch much prey that way.
There are three other ways out of the valley. That winding path you
see there leads up to Santona. That road on the other side leads out
on to the plain, and thence to Vittoria; while the footpath over the
brow opposite leads right down into the wide valley through which the
main north road runs. So you see this is a handy spot. From that brow
we can see the convoys going to and from France, and can pour down
upon them if they are weak; while, if a column is sent in search of
us, we can vanish away long before they can catch us. Nunez does not
use the direct road over the brow for his attack, but follows the
Santona or Vittoria road for a while, and then makes a swoop round. He
does not want to bring the French up to this village, for his family
and the families of many of the men live here."
As they approached the village, they found that there was a good deal
of bustle going on. Armed men were coming out of the cottages, and
gathering in a group round a rough stone cross, which stood in the
center of a sort of green. "We are just in time," Garcias said; "Nunez
is starting on some expedition or other."
When they reached the spot there were nearly two hundred men
assembled. They greeted Garcias with shouts of welcome as he arrived.
"Ah, ah! Garcias, just in time. Our last skin of wine was emptied last
night; we will bring some more up to-morrow; but if you had not come
we should have had to start thirsty, and that's unlucky besides being
"Where is Nunez!" Garcias asked.
"Here he comes," was the reply; and the boys turning saw a figure
approaching, which by no means answered to the expectation of the
celebrated guerilla chief. He was small and almost humpbodied, but
very broad. His head seemed too large for his body, and a pair of
fierce eyes gleamed out from beneath his shaggy eyebrows. His mustache
was thin and bristly and his month wide, but with thin lips. The boys
could understand the reputation for cruelty and mercilessness which
attached to this sinister-looking figure, but there was none of the
savage power which they had expected to see in so celebrated a leader.
"Any news, Garcias?" he asked shortly, as he came up.
"None, captain, except that these boys have brought some despatches
for you from the English Lord."
Nunez looked sharply at them, and held out his hand without speaking.
Tom gave him the little quill.
The guerilla opened it, read the contents, and, saying briefly, "An
answer to-morrow," strode on to his men, and in a few minutes they
were defiling out at the end of the valley.
"That hardly seems a strong enough body to attack a French convoy,
Garcias," Tom remarked.
"No, it would not be, but there is only a part of his band here; the
rest will join him at some place agreed on--perhaps ten miles from
here. I believe he has about thousand men under his orders. Now come
along; we shall be none the worse for dinner," and, leaving his men to
unload the mules, he led the way into the little posada, or inn.
"Ah! Mother Morena," he said to an old woman who was crouching near a
blazing wood fire, "warming yourself as usual; it's well you've a good
fire, for you will be able to get us some dinner all the more quickly.
Twelve of us altogether, and all as hungry as wolves."
"Ah!" exclaimed the old woman crossly; "it seems as if I were never to
have an hour's quiet, just as all that roaring, greedy lot, with their
Mother Morena here and Mother Morena there, and their grumbling at
the olla, and their curses and their quarrels, are off, and I think I
am going to have a quiet afternoon, then you come in with your twelve
"Ah! mother, but wolves don't pay, and we do, you see."
The frugal supper over, the boys laid down on the benches, and were
soon asleep. The next day passed slowly, for the band were not
expected to return until late at night--perhaps not until the next
morning, as the pass where the attack would be made was some fifteen
miles off, and the convoy might not pass there until late in the
afternoon. The boys soon made friends with some of the women and
children of the place, to whom they told stories of the great cities
of the plain, and of the great water which washed the shores of Spain.
The greater portion of the Spanish peasantry are incredibly ignorant,
and very few of the inhabitants of this village had ever gone beyond
the mountains. Walking about in the village, but apparently mixing but
very little in the games of the other children, were two little girls,
whose gay dress of rich silk seemed strangely out of place in such a
Tom asked one of the women who they were, and she replied, with a toss
of the head, "They are the captain's children. The last time the band
went out they found among the baggage and brought up here, the dresses
of the children of some fine lady, and the captain kept them all as
part of his share, just as if there were no children in the village
whom it would become a great deal better than those stuck-up little
things. Not," she said, softening a little, "that they were not nice
enough before they got these things; but since they came their heads
have been quite turned by the finery and they are almost too grand to
speak to their old playfellows."
"Is their mother alive?"
"No, poor thing, she was killed by the French when the village she
lived in was burned by them, because some of them were found hung in
the neighborhood. The captain was away at the time and the children
were out in the woods. When he came back he found them crying by the
side of their mother's body, in the middle of the burning village. So
then he took to the mountains, and he never spares a Frenchman who
falls into his hands. He has suffered, of course, but he brought it
upon himself, for he had a hand in hanging the French soldiers, and
now he is a devil. It will be bad for us all; for some day, when the
French are not busy with other things, they will rout us out here, and
then who can blame them if they pay us for all the captain's deeds?
Ah! me, they are terrible times, and Father Predo says he thinks the
end of the world must be very near. I hope it will come before the
French have time to hunt us down."
The boys had a hard struggle not to smile, but the woman spoke so
earnestly and seriously, that they could only shake their heads in
grave commiseration for her trouble; and then Tom asked, "Is the
captain very fond of the children?"
"He worships them," the woman said; "he has no heart and no pity for
others. He thinks no more of blood than I do of water; but he is as
tender as a woman with them. One of them was ill the other day--a mere
nothing, a little fever--and he sat by her bedside for eight days
without ever lying down."
"I suppose," Tom said, "they never bring prisoners up here?"
"Yes, they do," the woman said; "not common soldiers; they kill them
at once; but sometimes officers, if they want to exchange them for
some of ours who may have been taken, or if they think they are likely
to get a high ransom for them. But there, it always comes to the same
thing; there, where you see that mound on the hillside, that's where
they are. They blindfold them on their way up here, lest they might
find their way back after all. Only one or two have ever gone down
again. I wish they would finish with them all down below; they are
devils and heretics these French; but I don't care about seeing them
killed. Many of us do, though, and we have not many diversions up
here, so I suppose it's all for the best."
"I wish that fellow had given us our answer before he went away,"
Tom said to Peter when they were alone. "I hope he won't bring any
prisoners up here; these massacres are frightful, and one side seems
as bad as the other. Well, in another month we shall have finished
with all this work, and be making for the frontier again. Shan't I be
glad when we catch sight of the first red-coats!"
In the middle of the night the boys were roused by a general bustle,
and found that a messenger had just arrived, saying that the
expedition had been successful, that a portion of the enemy had been
cut off, their rear-guard destroyed, and that the whole band would be
up soon after daylight. The village was astir early, but it was not
until nine o'clock that the guerilla band arrived. The boys saw at a
glance that they were stronger in numbers than when they started, and
that with them were some twenty or thirty baggage animals.
The women flocked out to meet them with shrill cries of welcome. The
booty taken was not of any great value in money, but was more valuable
than gold to the guerillas.
Each one of the band carried, in addition to his own piece, a new
French musket, while in the barrels on the mules were powder and ball;
there were bales of cloth, and some cases of brandy and champagne, and
a few boxes and portmanteaus of officers' baggage. In the rear of all,
under a strong guard, were two French officers, both wounded, a lady
and a child of some seven or eight years old.
After a boisterous greeting to their wives, the band broke up, and
scattered over the village, three or four men remaining to guard the
captives, who were told to sit down against a wall.
The whole band were soon engaged in feasting, but no one paid the
least attention to the prisoners. The lady had sunk down exhausted,
with the little girl nestled close to her, the officers faint and pale
from loss of blood, leaned against the wall. One of them asked the
guards for some water, but the men paid no attention to the request,
answering only with a savage curse. Tom and Peter, who were standing
by, immediately went to the inn, filled a jug with water, and, taking
a drinking horn and some bread, went back. One of the guards angrily
ordered them back as they approached.
"I am not going to free them," Tom said, soothingly; "there can be no
reason why they should die of thirst, if they are enemies."
"I am thirsty myself," one of the guard said, "and it does us good to
see them thirst."
"What, has no one brought you anything to drink?" Tom said, in a tone
of surprise. "Here, Peter, you give this bread and water to these
prisoners; I will run to Mother Morena's and bring some wine for the
The guard would not allow Peter to approach the captives until Tom
arrived with a large jug of wine, and a cold fowl, which he had
obtained at the inn. These the Spaniards accepted, and allowed the
boys to give the water to the prisoners. All drank eagerly, with every
expression of thankfulness, the lady seizing Peter's hand and kissing
it as he handed the horn to the child. The lady was a very bright,
pretty woman, though now pale and worn with fatigue and emotion, and
the child was a lovely little creature.
The boys, on leaving the prisoners, hurried to Garcias.
"What are they going to do with the prisoners, Garcias?"
"They have brought them up here to exchange for Nunez's lieutenant,
who was taken last week. One of the men went off last night to
Vittoria with a letter to offer to exchange. One of the officers is a
colonel, and the young one a captain. The lady is, they say, the wife
of General Reynier."
"Then they are safe," Tom said joyfully, "for, of course the French
would exchange a guerilla against three such prisoners."
"Yes," Garcias said, "they are safe if Vagas has not been shot before
the messenger gets to Vittoria. The messenger will hear directly he
gets there, and if they have finished Vagas, he will come straight
back, for his letter will be of no use then."
"But the French would pay a ransom for them."
"Yes; but the captain is never fond of ransoming, and if the news
comes that Vagas is shot it is all up with them."
"But they will never murder a woman and child in cold blood!" Tom
said, in tones of indignant horror.
"Women are killed on both sides," the muleteer said, placidly. "I
don't hold to it myself, but I don't know, after all, why a woman's
life is a bit more precious than a man's. Vagas's wife and children
are here, too, and if the news comes of his death, she would stir the
band up to kill the prisoners, even if the captain wanted to save
them, which he certainly will not do."
"When is the messenger expected back?"
"If he goes to Vittoria and finds Vagas is alive, and arranges for
the exchange, he won't be back till late to-night, perhaps not till
to-morrow; but, if he hears, either on the way or directly he gets
there, that he is dead, he may be back this afternoon." Soon after
this conversation Garcias was sent for to the chief, and returned
with a small note, which he handed to the boys as the answer to the
despatch, and urged them to go at once. The boys said that they could
not leave until they saw the end of this terrible drama which was
passing before their eyes. It was early in the afternoon when a man
was seen coming along the path from Vittoria. A hundred eager eyes
examined him, and ere long it was declared as certain that it was the
messenger. The boys' heart sank within them as they saw the fierce
look cast by the Spaniards in the direction of the prisoners, for
every one in the village was well aware of the meaning of this early
return. The boys had arranged upon the course they would pursue, and
they at once hurried to Garcias.
"Please come with us at once to Nunez. We want to see him before the
"I will come with you," Garcias said; "but if you think that any
talking of yours will persuade Nunez to move out of his way, you are
mistaken. It is more likely to cost you your own lives, I can tell
you; however, I gave you the promise I would do my best for you when
you started with me, and I will go with you now, though what you want
to interfere for here is more than I can make out. Pshaw! what matters
two or three of these accursed French, more or less?"
As they neared the chief's house they saw him coming towards them. His
brow was as black as thunder; he was evidently prepared for the news
of his lieutenant's death.
"These messengers want to speak to you for a moment," Garcias said.
The chief stopped with an impatient gesture.
"Señor," Tom said, with a dignity which surprised the chief; "we are
not what we seem. We are two English officers, and we have come to beg
of you, to implore you, not to tarnish the cause for which you fight
by shedding the blood of women and children."
The boys had agreed that it would be altogether hopeless to try to
save the French officers.
"British officers, indeed," exclaimed Nunez, "a likely story. Do you
know them as such, Garcias?"
"No," Garcias said bluntly, "I never guessed at it; but now they say
so, I think it's likely enough, for they don't seem to see things in
the same way as other people."
"I can give you proof of it," Tom said, calmly, pulling up the sleeve
of his coat, and showing a cicatrix in his forearm. Taking a knife
from his pocket, he cut into the skin, and drew forth a tiny silver
tube. This he opened, and handed to Nunez a paper signed by Lord
Wellington, declaring the bearers to be British officers, and
requesting all loyal Spaniards to give them every assistance.
The captain read it through, and flung it down. "You may be officers,"
he said contemptuously; "but if you were Lord Wellington himself, I
would not spare these accursed French. Listen!" and as he spoke a howl
of rage ran from the other end of the village, and told too plainly
the nature of the tidings the messenger had brought.
"I again protest," Tom said firmly. "I protest, as a British officer,
and in the name of humanity, against this cold-blooded murder of a
woman and child. It is a disgrace to Spain, a disgrace to the cause,
it is a brutal and cowardly act."
The guerilla furiously drew a pistol; but Garcias placed himself
between him and Tom. "I have promised him a safe conduct," he said,
"and have given my word for his safety. He is only a boy, and a young
fool; don't trouble with him."
Fortunately at this moment, for the guerilla was still irresolutely
handling his pistol, a crowd was seen coming towards them, headed by
a woman who seemed frantic with rage and grief. All were shouting,
"Death to the assassins! death to the French!" The chief at once moved
forward to meet them.
Tom and Peter gave a significant glance towards each other, and then
Tom turned to go back towards the house which Nunez inhabited, while
Peter hurried towards the spot where the prisoners were kept. Already
a crowd was assembling who were talking threateningly at the French
officers. Peter made his way through them until he stood by the lady,
who, with her child clinging to her neck, looked in terror at the
angry crowd, whose attention, however, was directed to the officers,
who stood looking calmly indifferent to their threats and insults.
"Do you speak Spanish, madam?" Peter asked, leaning over her.
She shook her head.
"Do you speak English?" he asked, in that tongue.
"Yes, yes, a little." the lady said, eagerly; "who are you? What is
this fierce crowd about?"
"Hush!" Peter said. "I am a friend. Listen. In a few minutes they are
going to shoot you all." The lady gave a stifled cry, and pressed
her child close to her. "Remember, when they come to you, ask for a
priest; gain a few minutes, and I hope to save you and the child."
So saying, he slipped away into the crowd again. He had scarcely done
so when Nunez arrived, accompanied by many of his men. The crowd fell
back, and he strode up to the French officers. "French dogs," he said,
"you are to die. I spared you to exchange, but your compatriots have
murdered my lieutenant, and so now it's your turn. You may think
yourselves lucky that I shoot you, instead of hanging you. Take them
to that wall," he said, pointing to one some twenty yards off.
The Frenchmen understood enough Spanish to know that their fate was
sealed. Without a word they took each other's hands, and marched
proudly to the spot pointed out. Here, turning round, they looked with
calm courage at the Spaniards, who formed up with leveled muskets at
a few paces distance. "Vive la France! Tirez," said the elder, in a
firm, voice, and in a moment they fell back dead, pierced with a dozen
Peter had turned away when Nunez appeared on the scene, to avoid
seeing the murder, and with his eyes fixed in the direction in which
Tom had gone, he listened almost breathlessly to what should come.
The French lady had sat immovable, cowering over her child, while her
countrymen were taken away and murdered. As Nunez passed where she
crouched, he said to two of his men, "Put your muskets to their heads,
and finish them!" As the men approached, she lifted up her face, pale
as death, and said,--
"Un prêtre, uno padre!"
"She wants a priest," the men said, drawing back; "she has a right to
There was a murmur of assent from those around, and two or three
started to the priest's house, situated only a few yards away, being
one of the end houses of the village. The priest soon appeared, came
up to the spot, and received orders to shrive the Frenchwoman. He
attempted a remonstrance, but was silenced by a threat from Nunez,
and knowing from experience of such scenes that his influence went
for nothing with Nunez and his fierce band, he bent over her, and the
crowd drew back, to let them speak unheard. At this moment, to Peter's
intense relief, he saw Tom approaching with the captain's two children
walking beside him. Absorbed in what was passing before them, no one
else looked round, and Peter slipped away and joined his brother. They
came within twenty yards of the crowd, and then paused.
"Wait a minute," Tom said to the children, "your father is busy."
In another minute Nunez shouted roughly, "There that will do; finish
with it and have done! I want to be off to my dinner."
Tom and Peter simultaneously drew out a large Spanish knife, and each
took one of the children firmly by the shoulder.
"Stop! Señor Nunez!" Tom shouted in a loud, clear tone. "Stop! or by
heaven there will be four victims instead of two! Let one of you lift
a finger against these captives--let one of you come one step nearer
to us--and, by the Holy Virgin, we will drive our knives into these
A cry of astonishment broke from the crowd, and one of agony and rage
from Nunez, who tottered against a wall in horror at the danger in
which his daughters were placed.
"Listen! all of you," Tom said, "we are English officers, we have
shown our papers to Nunez, and he knows it is so. We will not suffer
this murder of a mother and her child. If they are to die, we will die
with them; but these two children shall die too! Now, what is it to
A dozen of the guerillas leveled their guns at the two daring boys.
"No! no!" Nunez shrieked; "lower your guns. Don't hurt the children,
señors. The captives shall not be hurt; I swear it! They shall go
free. Give me my children."
"Not if I know it," Tom said; "Do you think I could trust the word of
a man who would murder women and children in cold blood? No; these
girls shall go with us as hostages, till we are safe under French
"They will tell them the way up here," said one of the woman in the
group, "and then we shall be all killed."
"No," Tom said; "the lady shall swear not to tell the way up here. She
shall swear on your priest's crucifix. We will give you our words as
"But how are the children to get back here again?" another asked, for
Nunez was so paralyzed that he could only gaze on the children, who
were crying bitterly, and implore them to stand quiet, and not try to
get away. After more parleying the arrangements were completed. The
crowd fell back on either side, so as to leave a large space round the
French lady. Tom and Peter then went up to them with the little girls.
The lady was sobbing with joy and excitement at this unexpected
"Can you walk?" Tom asked her in English.
"Yes," she said, getting up hastily, but almost falling again.
"Garcias will go first, as guide. The priest will give you his arm,"
Tom went on, "these two young women will go with you and carry your
child if necessary. You will walk on, twenty yards ahead of us. We
follow with these girls. No one is to follow us, or accompany us. We
are to go on like that till we come upon your outposts, and then the
priest and the two women will bring back Nunez's children."
"You will send them safe back, you swear?" asked Nunez, in tremulous
"Psha!" Tom said contemptuously, "you don't suppose we are
child-murderers, like yourself."
"Remember!" the guerilla said, in a sudden burst of passion, "if you
ever cross my path again, I will--"
"Do terrible things no doubt," Tom said scornfully; "and do you
beware, too. It is wild beasts like yourself who have brought disgrace
and ruin on Spain. No defeat could dishonor and disgrace her as much
as your fiendish cruelty. It is in revenge for the deeds that you and
those like you do, that the French carry the sword and fire to your
villages. We may drive the French out, but never will a country which
fights by murder and treachery become a great nation. Are you ready,
"I am ready," the muleteer said, stepping forward from the silent and
"We can trust you," Tom said heartily; "take us the short way straight
down into the valley; we may have the luck to come upon a passing
French troop in an hour. Think of that, madam," he said to the French
lady, "let that give you strength and courage."
So saying, the procession set out in the order Tom had indicated,
amidst the curses of the guerillas, who were furious at seeing
themselves thus bearded. At the brow of the hill Tom looked back, and
saw that the guerillas were still standing in a group, in front of
which he could distinguish the figure of Nunez. Taking off his hat,
he waved an ironical farewell, and then followed the party down
the hillside into the broad valley below. They could see the road
stretching like a thread along it, but to their disappointment, not
a figure was visible upon it. Now that there was no longer danger of
treachery, the party closed up together.
"How far is it to Vittoria, Garcias?"
"Twenty good miles, señor."
"But we shall never get there," Tom said in dismay. "I am sure the
lady could not walk another five miles; she is quite exhausted now."
"You will not have to go five miles, señor. There is a body of four
or five hundred French in that large village you see there; it is not
more than three miles at most."
It was a weary journey, for the French lady, exhausted by fatigue
and excitement, was often obliged to stop and sit down to rest, and,
indeed, could not have got on at all had not Garcias on one side and
the padre on the other helped her on. At last, just as the sun was
setting, they approached the village, and could see the French
sentries at its entrance. When within a hundred yards they paused.
"We are safe now," Tom said; "it is not necessary for you to go
farther. Good-by, little ones; I am sorry we have given you such a
fright, but it was not our fault. Good-by, padre; I know that you will
not grudge your walk, for the sake of its saving the lives of these
unfortunates. Good-by, Garcias; thanks for your kindness and fidelity.
I will report them when I return, and will, if I get a chance, send
you a remembrance of our journey together."
"Good-by, señors," Garcias said, shaking them by the hand; "you
English are different to us, and I am not surprised now at your
General holding Portugal against all the French armies." Then he
lowered his voice, so that the Spanish women standing by could not
hear him. "Be on your guard, señors; don't move on from the village
without a strong convoy is going on; change your disguise, if
possible; distrust every one you come across, and, in heaven's name,
get back to your lines as soon as possible, for you may be assured
that your steps will be dogged, and that you will be safe nowhere in
Spain from Nunez's vengeance. The guerillas communicate with each
other, and you are doomed if you fall into the hands of any, except,
perhaps, one or two of the greater chiefs. Be always on your guard;
sleep with your eyes open. Remember, except in the middle of a French
regiment, you will never be really safe."
"Thanks, Garcias!" the boys said earnestly, "we will do our best to
keep our throats safe. At any rate, if we go down, it shall not be for
want of watchfulness!"
Another shake of the hands, and the party separated. The Spanish woman
who was carrying the sleeping French child handed her over to Tom, who
took her without waking her while Peter lent his arm to the French
"Madam," Tom said in English, "you will soon be among your friends. I
know that you will keep your promise not to divulge the situation of
the village you have left. I must ask you, also, to promise me not
to say that we speak English, or to say anything which may create a
suspicion that we are not what we seem. You will, of course, relate
your adventures, and speak of us merely as Spanish boys, who acted as
they did being moved by pity for you. We must accompany you for some
time, for Nunez will move heaven and earth to get us assassinated, and
all we want is that you shall obtain permission for us to sleep in the
guard-room, so as to be under shelter of French bayonets until we can
decide upon our course of action."
The lady assented with a gesture, for she was too exhausted to speak,
and as they reached the French sentries she tottered and sank down on
the ground insensible.
The French sentries, who had been watching with surprise the slow
approach of two peasant boys, the one carrying a child, the other
assisting a woman clad in handsome, but torn and disheveled clothes,
on seeing the latter fall, called to their comrades, and a sergeant
and some soldiers came out from a guard-room close by.
"Hallo!" said the sergeant. "What's all this? Who is this woman? And
where do you come from?"
The boys shook their heads.
"Of course," the sergeant said, lifting the lady, "they don't
understand French; how should they? She looks a lady, poor thing. Who
can she be, I wonder?"
"General Reynier," Tom said, touching her.
"General Reynier!" exclaimed the sergeant to his comrades. "It must be
the general's wife. I heard she was among those killed or carried off
from that convoy that came through last night. Jacques, fetch out
Captain Thibault, and you, Noel, run for Dr. Pasques."
The officer on guard came out, and, upon hearing the sergeant's
report, had Madame Reynier at once carried into a house hard by, and
sent a message to the colonel of the regiment. The little girl, still
asleep, was also carried in and laid down, and the regimental doctor
and the colonel soon arrived. The former went into the house, the
latter endeavored in vain to question the boys in French. Finding it
useless, he walked up and down impatiently until a message came down
from the doctor that the lady had recovered from her fainting fit, and
wished to see him at once.
Tom and Peter, finding that no one paid any attention to them, sat,
quietly down by the guard-house.
In a few minutes the French colonel came down. "Where are those boys?"
he exclaimed hastily. There was quite a crowd of soldiers round the
house, for the news of the return of General Reynier's wife and child
had circulated rapidly and created quite an excitement. "Where are
those boys?" he shouted again.
The sergeant of the guard came forward.
"I had no orders to keep them prisoners, sir," he said in an
apologetic tone, for he had not noticed the boys, and thought that
he was going to get into a scrape for not detaining them; but he
was interrupted by one of the soldiers who had heard the question,
bringing them forward.
To the astonishment of the soldiers, the colonel rushed forward, and,
with a Frenchman's enthusiasm, actually kissed them. "Mes braves
garçons!" he exclaimed. "Mes braves garçons! Look you, all of you,"
he exclaimed to the soldiers, "you see these boys, they are heroes,
they have saved, at the risk of their own lives, mark you, General
Reynier's wife and daughter; they have braved the fury of that
accursed Nunez and his band, and have brought them out from that den
of wolves." And then, in excited tones, he described the scene as he
had heard it from Madame Reynier.
At this relation the enthusiasm of the French soldiers broke out in
a chorus of cheers and excited exclamations. The men crowded round
the boys, shook them by the hands, patted them on the back, and in a
hundred strange oaths vowed an eternal friendship for them.
After a minute or two, the colonel raised his hand for silence. "Look
you," he said to the men. "You can imagine that, after what these boys
have done, their life is not safe for a moment. This accursed Nunez
will dog them and have them assassinated if he can. So I leave them to
you; you will take care of them, my children, will you not?"
A chorus of assurances was the reply, and the boys found themselves as
it were adopted into the regiment. The soldiers could not do enough
for them, but, as neither party understood the other's language,
the intercourse did not make much progress. They had, however, real
difficulty in refusing the innumerable offers of a glass of wine or
brandy made to them by every group of soldiers as they moved about
through the village.
The boys felt that their position was a false one; and although, in
point of fact, they had no report to make upon the regiment, still
the possibility that if discovered they might be thought to have been
acting as spies on men who treated them with so much friendliness was
repugnant to them. However, their stay was not to be prolonged, for
the regiment had already been stationed for a month at the village,
and was to be relieved by another expected hourly from France, and was
then to go on to Madrid. This they learned from one of the soldiers
who could speak a few words of Spanish.
It was upon the third day after their arrival that the expected
regiment came in, and next morning the boys started soon after
daybreak with their friends. They had not seen Madame Reynier during
their stay in the village, for she was laid up with a sharp attack of
illness after the excitement she had gone through. She was still far
from fit to travel, but she insisted on going on, and a quantity of
straw was accordingly laid in a cart, pillows and cushions were heaped
on this, and an awning was arranged above to keep off the sun. The
regiment had taken on the transport animals which had come in with the
baggage of the troops the night before; hence the mule drivers and
other followers were all strangers. The boys were marching beside the
regiment, talking with one of the sergeants who had been previously
for two years in Spain, and spoke a little Spanish, when the colonel,
who had been riding alongside Madame Reynier, told them as he passed
on to the head of the regiment, that she wished to speak to them.
The boys fell out, and allowed the troops and the line of baggage
animals and carts to pass them. As the latter came along, Tom observed
one of the Spanish drivers glance in their direction, and immediately
avert his head.
"Peter, that fellow is one of Nunez's band; I will almost swear to his
face. No doubt he has joined the convoy for the purpose of stabbing us
on the first opportunity. I expected this. We must get rid of them at
The boys had both been furnished with heavy cavalry pistols by order
of the colonel, to defend themselves against any sudden attack, and,
placing his hand on the butt in readiness for instant use, Tom,
accompanied by his brother walked up to the Spaniard.
"You and those with you are known," he said. "Unless you all fall out
at the next village we come to, I will denounce you, and you haven't
five minutes to live after I do so. Mind, if one goes on you all
The Spaniard uttered a deep execration, and put his hand on his knife,
but seeing that the boys were in readiness, and that the French
baggage guard marching alongside would certainly shoot him before he
could escape, he relinquished his design.
"Mind," Tom said, "the first village; it is only a mile ahead, and
we shall probably halt there for five minutes; if one of you goes a
single foot beyond it, you will swing in a row."
So saying, the boys dropped behind again until Madame Reynier's cart
came along. The sides were open, and the lady, who was sitting up,
supported by pillows, with her child beside her, saw them, and called
to them to climb up to her. They did so at once, and she then poured
forth her thanks in tones of the deepest gratitude.
"My husband is not at Madrid," she said when she saw by the boys'
confusion that they would be really glad if she would say no more;
"but when he hears of it he will thank you for saving his wife and
child. Of course," she went on, "I can see that you are not what you
seem. Spanish boys would not have acted so. Spanish boys do not speak
English. That makes it impossible for me in any way to endeavor to
repay my obligation. Had you been even Spanish peasants, the matter
would have been comparatively easy; then my husband could have made
you rich and comfortable for life; as it is--"
She paused, evidently hoping that they would indicate some way in
which she could serve them.
"As it is, madam," Tom said, "you can, if you will, be of great
service to us by procuring for us fresh disguises in Madrid, for I
fear that after what happened with Nunez our lives will not be safe
from his vengeance anywhere in Spain. Already we have discovered that
some of his band are accompanying this convoy with the intention of
killing us at the first opportunity."
"Why do you not denounce them instantly?" Madame Reynier said, rising
in her excitement and looking round.
"We cannot well do that," Tom said, "at least not if it can be
avoided. They know already that we have recognized them, and will
leave at the next village; so we are safe at present, but in Madrid we
shall be no longer so. We cannot remain permanently under the guard of
the bayonets of the 63d Line; and indeed our position is as you may
guess, a false and unpleasant one, from which we would free ourselves
at the first opportunity. We shall therefore ask you, when you get to
Madrid, to provide us with fresh disguises and a pass to travel west
as far as the limits of the French lines."
"You can consider that as done," Madame Reynier answered; "I only
regret that it is so slight a return. And now," she said lightly, to
change the conversation, "I must introduce you to this young lady.
Julie," she asked in French, "do you remember those boys?"
"Yes," Julie said; "these are the boys who gave mamma and Julie water
when those wicked men would not give us anything to drink when we were
thirsty; and it was these boys that mamma said prevented the wicked
men from killing us. They are good boys, nice boys, but they are very
ragged and dirty."
Madame Reynier smiled, and translated Julie's answer.
"You know," she went on, hesitatingly, "that I know that--that you are
English officers. I heard you say so when you saved us. But how is it
that you can be officers so very young?"
Tom explained that in England the officers entered for the most part
directly, and not, as in the French army, by promotion from the ranks,
and that, consequently, the junior officers were much younger than
those of equal rank in the French service.
The convoy had now reached the village, and a halt was ordered,
and the boys alighting, walked forward to see that their unwelcome
attendants quitted them. As the soldiers fell out from their order of
march and sat down under the shade of the houses many of the Spaniards
with the baggage-train followed their example, and the boys saw the
man to whom they had spoken go up to four others, and in a short time
these separated themselves from the rest, went carelessly round a
corner, and when the order came to continue the march, failed to make
their appearance. Their absence passed unnoticed save by the boys,
for the natives frequently took advantage of the passage of troops
and convoys to travel from one part of the country to another, for
the guerillas were for the most part little better than brigands,
and would plunder their own countrymen without scruple whenever the
opportunity was favorable.
The march to Madrid was accomplished without adventure, and the boys
improved the occasion by endeavoring to pick up as many French phrases
as they could, as they marched along by the side of the sergeant who
had specially taken them under his charge. He knew a little Spanish,
so they managed to keep up a conversation with him in a strange medley
of the two languages, which helped to pass the time away merrily. At
Madrid they took up their quarters in the barracks with the regiment;
they had already explained their plan of disguise to Madame Reynier,
and she had promised to provide all that was necessary and to obtain
the military pass for them.
They had soon reason to congratulate themselves that their stay
in Madrid was under the protection of French bayonets. During the
day after their arrival they remained quietly in barracks, as the
appearance of two Spanish peasants walking about the street with
French soldiers would have excited comments. In the evening, however,
they agreed with their friend the sergeant, who was going into the
town with three or four of his comrades, that they should accompany
them, not, however, walking actually with them, but following a few
paces behind, so as to be within reach of their assistance should any
one molest them.
They reached the Piazza del Sol, the great central square of Madrid,
without incident, and amused themselves with the sight of the constant
stream of people passing to and fro, the ladies in their graceful
black mantillas, the men in cloaks and Spanish sombreros, or round
felt hats. Presently the sergeant and his companions left the square,
and turning down one of the narrow streets which run into it, amused
themselves by looking into the shops, with their gay fans, bright
handkerchiefs, and other articles of Spanish manufacture.
Tom and Peter followed their example, keeping some ten paces behind
them. It was now nearly dark, and the streets were but badly lighted
except by the lamps in the shop windows.
"It may be all fancy, Tom," Peter said, "but I can't help thinking
that we are followed. There are three follows who have passed us
twice, and I am pretty sure they are particularly noticing us. Keep
your hand on your pistol."
As the boys paused at another shop window, the three men again
approached, this time from ahead.
"Look out, Tom," Peter said sharply.
As the men came up to them, one of them exclaimed,
The boys faced round, pistol in hand, with a cry to their friends,
just as the three Spaniards, with drawn knives, were upon them.
The sudden movement disconcerted them, and two sprang back from the
leveled tubes of the pistols, with fierce oaths of surprise, the
third, however, rushed in and struck at Tom; the latter instinctively
moved aside, and the knife inflicted a heavy gash on the shoulder, and
almost at the same moment Peter's bullet crashed through the fellow's
His comrades, with a cry of rage, rushed in, but before they could
strike, the sergeant was up and ran one through the body with his
sword, whereon the other fled. The whole affair lasted only three
or four seconds. In less than a minute the street was absolutely
deserted, for rows and fights were so common between the soldiers and
the people, that all prudent people got out of the way the moment a
knife was drawn.
"Well done, lad," the sergeant said to Peter, "I thought your brother
was done for. Luckily I had faced your way when the fellow attacked
you, and was on my way to help you before they began, but I feared I
should be too late. That was a wonderfully pretty snap shot of yours,
and you were as cool as old hands. Peste! I don't know what to make
of you boys. Now come along, we had better get away from this carrion
before any one comes up and asks questions. First, though, let me tie
up your shoulder."
This was soon done, and while the sergeant was engaged upon it, his
comrades, old soldiers, turned over the dead Spaniards, searched their
pockets, and chuckled as they found several gold pieces.
One or two French soldiers alone came near them before they left the
spot, attracted by the sound of the pistol. A word from the sergeant,
"These scoundrels attacked us, they have got their _coup_," satisfied
them, and the boys and their friend soon regained the crowded main
street, leaving the bodies for the watch to find and bury.
Arrived at the barracks, Tom's arm was examined by the surgeon, and
the cut pronounced a deep flesh wound, but of no consequence; it was
soon strapped up, and with his arm in a sling Tom went down to the
sergeant's quarters, where they slept. Here they had to go through
much patting on the back, for their friend had described the readiness
and coolness with which they stood at bay, and popular as they were
before they were now more so than ever. For the rest of their stay in
Madrid the boys did not stir out of barracks. One at least of Nunez's
envoys they knew to be alive, and he could enlist any number of the
lower class against them, so they resolved not to go out until they
should finally start.
After a fortnight's stay they were sent for to the colonel's quarters,
where they found Madame Reynier and her child. "I had a letter from my
husband this morning," she said, "from his camp near Cordova, thanking
you with all his heart for the inestimable service you rendered him,
and begging me to tell you that you can count on his gratitude to the
extent of his life at any and all times. You need no assurance of
mine. And now about your journey. All is prepared for you to leave
to-morrow morning. You are to come here to the colonel's quarters soon
after daybreak. Here are your two disguises, for the one as a young
bachelor of medicine, for the other as a young novice. Here is your
pass, signed by the minister, authorizing you both to pass on to your
relations at Ciudad Rodrigo, and to go unmolested thence where you
choose, also recommending you to the care of all French and Spanish
authorities. A regiment marches to-morrow morning for the frontier;
the colonel is a cousin of my husband. I have told him that some
friends of yours rendered me much kindness and service on my way down,
and that I particularly commend you to his care. He has promised to
allow you to follow the regiment, and to see that you get quarters at
each halting-place. He does not know you for anything but what you
appear to be. When you have put on these dresses to-morrow morning,
step out by the private door from these quarters, looking carefully
when you start to see that there is no one in the street. Then go
boldly to No. 15, Rue St. Geronimo; go into the courtyard, there you
will see two stout mules with all necessaries, under charge of a
soldier, who will have instructions to hand them over to you without
asking any questions; then go down to the Retiro and wait till the
16th come along. The Colonel will be on the look-out for you, and you
will ride up to him and hand him this note. And now farewell, dear
boys; never shall I forget you, or cease to pray for you, and may be
when this terrible war is over we may meet as friends again. Keep
these little tokens of remembrance of your grateful friends." So
saying, Madame Reynier pressed into the boys' hands two magnificent
gold watches and chains, held her child up for each of them to kiss,
threw her arms round their necks and kissed them herself, and then
drawing down her veil to conceal the tears which were standing in her
eyes, left them hastily.
That night the boys said good-by to their friend the sergeant, and
to those soldiers with whom they had most companionship. "You have
guessed, no doubt, sergeant," Tom said, in his mixture of Spanish and
French, "that we are not exactly what we seem to be, but if we should
ever meet again, under different circumstances, I want you to remember
that our connection with the regiment has been in a way forced upon
us. I should not like you to think, that is that under the pretence
of friendship, we have been treacherously learning things. Do you
"I understand, mes braves," the sergeant said, "Jacques Pinteau is no
fool, and he saw from the first that you were not two ragged Spanish
peasant boys by birth. I daresay I can guess what you are, but there
need be no ill-will for that, and as you only came among us by
accident, as it were, there is no more to be said either way. There is
one thing certain, wherever or however we meet, we shall be friends."
So well were Madame Reynier's plans arranged that the boys passed from
Madrid to the frontier without a single hitch or unpleasantness. Tom
was soberly attired as a student at the university, Peter was muffled
up to the eyes as a timid young novice, going from school to enter a
convent, of which his aunt was lady superior, at Ciudad Rodrigo. The
colonel, and, following his example, the officers of the regiment were
polite and civil. The marches were of easy length, the mules stout
and smooth-going, with well-filled traveling sacks. The weather was
delightful, and the boys enjoyed the fortnight's march exceedingly.
Upon the road they learned that Massena had laid siege to Ciudad
Rodrigo, and that the 16th was on its way to join the besieging army.
It was the end of June, 1810, when the 16th joined Massena's force
before Ciudad Rodrigo. The siege had continued for some time, the
British light division, under General Craufurd, lay upon the other
side of the river Agueda, which separated them alike from the town and
the French army. The colonel of the 16th politely expressed to Tom his
regret that he could not, for the present, conduct them to their final
destination, but that he hoped that the gate would soon be open for
them. Tom thanked him for the civility which he had shown them upon
the road, and said that he would, with his sister, take up his abode
for the present a few miles from the beleaguered fortress. On leaving
the regiment the boys went higher up the Agueda to the little town of
Villar, where there was a bridge. This however, was watched by the
troops of both armies, and there was, at present, no chance of
affecting a passage.
THE FIGHT ON THE COA.
All through the winter of 1809-1810, Wellington had remained quietly
on the frontier of Portugal, engaged in disciplining his troops, many
of whom were raw drafts from the militia, in urging upon the home
Government the necessity of fresh reinforcements, if the war was to be
carried on with the smallest hopes of success, and in controversies
and disputes with the Portuguese regency. This body of incapables
starved their own army, refused supplies and transport to the British,
and behaved with such arrogance and insolence that Wellington was
several times driven to use the threat that, unless measures were
taken to keep the Portuguese troops from starving, and to supply food
to the British, he would put his army on board the transports at
Lisbon, and give up the struggle altogether.
Spring found the army still on the frontier, and when the French
advanced in force in May to lay siege to the Spanish frontier fortress
of Ciudad Rodrigo, Wellington to the intense disappointment of his own
troops, and the bitter anger of the Portuguese and Spaniards, refused
to fight a battle to save the fortress, which, under its gallant old
governor, Andrea Hernati, was defending itself nobly.
Wellington's position was, however, a very difficult one, and his
responsibilities were immense. Allowing for the detachments which were
massing to check three other French columns advancing in different
directions, he had but 25,000 men with which to attempt to raise the
siege of Ciudad Rodrigo, or to draw off the besieged garrison. Massena
had under him 60,000 French veterans, and was desiring nothing more
than that Wellington should attack him. The chances of victory then
were by no means strong, and in any case victory could only have been
purchased by a loss of men which would have completely crippled the
British general, and would have rendered it absolutely necessary for
him to fall back again at once. A defeat or even a heavy loss of
men, would have so dispirited the faint-hearted Government at home
that they would undoubtedly have recalled the whole expedition, and
resigned Portugal to its fate. Thus Wellington decided not to risk the
whole fate of the British army and of Portugal for merely a temporary
advantage, and so stood firm against the murmurs of his own troops,
the furious reproaches of the Portuguese and Spaniards, and the moving
entreaties for aid of the gallant governor of the besieged town.
At the same time that he refused to risk a general battle, he kept
Craufurd's division in advance of the Coa, and within two hours' march
of the enemy, thereby encouraging the garrison of Ciudad Rodrigo, and
preventing Massena from pushing forward a portion of his army while
the rest pursued the siege.
Craufurd's front was guarded by the Agueda, a river only passable by
two or three bridges and fords in wet weather, but fordable in many
places in the dry season. At the commencement of June the Agueda
fell, and the French crossed in strength at various places. Craufurd,
however, still maintained his position in front of the Coa with great
skill and boldness. He had under his command only 4000 infantry, 1100
cavalry, and six guns, and his maintenance of his position, almost
within gun-shot of an enemy's army, 60,000 strong, for three months,
is one of the finest feats of military audacity and ability ever
Until the 11th of July the boys remained quietly at a cottage occupied
by peasants, who believed their story that they were only waiting
to proceed when the French army advanced. They were freed from
molestation or inquiry upon the part of the French by the pass with
which Madame Reynier had supplied them.
Upon that day Ciudad Rodrigo surrendered, and Massena prepared at once
to enter Portugal. Upon the 21st the cavalry advanced in great force,
and upon the following day the boys resolved upon endeavoring to
rejoin the British army. The Agueda was now easily fordable in many
places, but the boys determined to swim across, at a distance from the
point at which the French army was now pouring forward.
As evening came on they left the cottage, and walked two miles up
the stream, and, as soon as night fell, took off the costumes which
had proved of such service to them and left them on the bank; then
fastening their peasants' suits upon two bundles of rushes to keep
them dry, entered the little river, and were soon upon the opposite
shore. They knew, from what they had heard in the afternoon, that
Craufurd had fallen back upon Almeida, a fortified town, and that it
was probable he would at once cross the Coa, as resistance to the
force now approaching him seemed nothing short of madness.
No good, indeed, could be gained by a fight in such a position, with a
deep river in the rear, crossed by only a narrow bridge, and commanded
by both banks, and Wellington's orders had been imperative "that, upon
no account whatever was Craufurd to fight beyond the Coa."
Craufurd, however, a rash and obstinate, although a skilful general,
was determined upon having a brush with the enemy before he fell back.
He anticipated, no doubt, that only an advanced guard of the enemy
would come up at first, and his intention was to inflict a severe
check upon them with the magnificent little division under his
command, and then fall back triumphantly across the Coa. Massena,
however, was well aware of the fighting powers of the light division,
and was preparing to hurl suddenly upon him a force more than
sufficient to crush it.
The Scudamores had but little fear of meeting with any large body of
the enemy, as the main French advance was direct from Ciudad Rodrigo;
their cavalry would, however, be scattered all over the country, and
were they to fall into the hands of any of these parties they would
have been shot instantly, upon suspicion of endeavoring to convey news
of the French movements to Craufurd.
The point where they crossed the river was between Villar and Naves
Frias, and, after an hour's walking, they struck the little rivulet
called Duas Casas. This they crossed at once, as they knew that by
following its southern bank until they saw some high ground to their
left they would find themselves near Almeida, which they hoped to
reach before the English retreated.
All night they tramped through the fields of stubble, where the corn
had been long since cut for the use of Craufurd's cavalry, but walking
at night through an unknown country is slow work, and when day began
to break they entered a small wood just beyond the point where the
Turones, as the southern arm of the Duas Casas is called, branches off
from the main stream. Several times in the course of the day bodies
of the enemy's cavalry came near their place of concealment, and the
Scudamores congratulated themselves that they had not given way to
their impatience, and tried to push on across the twenty miles that
alone separated them from their friends.
At nightfall the wind rose, and a heavy rain began to fall. They had
no stars by which to steer their course, and were, therefore, forced
to follow the bank of the Turones, although they knew that it would
lead them some distance to the north of Almeida. It was slow work,
indeed, for they had to grope their way along in the storm, following
every turn and bend of the river, which formed their only guide. After
several hours' toil they came into a road running north and south.
This they knew was the road leading from Guarda to Almeida, and it
gave them a clue as to the distance they had come. Still following the
river, they continued their course until they approached San Pedro,
whence they knew that a road ran directly to the British position
in front of Almeida, that is if the British still maintained their
As they approached the village, they heard a deep, hollow sound,
and stopping to listen, and laying their ears to the ground, could
distinguish the rumble of heavy carriages.
"The French are advancing in force, Peter; we are just in time;
they are going to attack us in the morning at daybreak. We know the
direction now; let us turn to the left, and try to get on in advance
of them. They probably will not push on much farther until there
is light enough to permit them to form order of battle; they are
evidently, by the sound, going to the left, rather than straight on."
The Scudamores now hurried on, and presently the rumbling of the
artillery died away, and they ventured to push to their left, and to
get on the road, which they found deserted. Half an hour's run, for
they knew that every minute was of importance, and they heard the
welcome challenge, "Who comes there?" "Two British officers," they
answered, and in a few minutes they were taken to the officer in
charge of the picket, and having once convinced him of their identity,
were heartily greeted and welcomed.
"The French are advancing in great force to attack," Tom said; "please
forward us instantly to the general."
The matter was too important for an instant's delay, and a sergeant
was at once told off to accompany them.
The first faint blush of daylight was in the east when they arrived
at the cottage which served as General Craufurd's quarters, and, upon
their speaking to the sentinel at the door, a window was thrown open,
and a deep voice demanded "What is it?"
"We have just arrived through the French lines," Tom said, "the enemy
are at hand in force."
The casement closed, and an instant afterwards the general came out.
"Who are you?"
"We belong to the Norfolk Rangers, general, and have been detached on
service in the interior; we have only just made our way back."
"How am I to know your story is true?" the general asked sharply.
"You may, perhaps, remember, sir, we landed from the 'Latona,' and you
kindly lent us horses to accompany you."
"Aha! I remember," the general said. "Well, your news?"
"The French have crossed the Turones in force, sir; at least they have
a good many guns with them."
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