The muleteer hesitated, and then said, "The mule is very bad tempered with strangers."
"Oh, dat all nonsense," Sam thought, "he only pretend dat as excuse; any one can see de creature as quiet as lamb; don't he let his master sit on him sideways?"
"All right," he said aloud, "I try him."
The muleteer dismounted, and Sam prepared to take his place on the saddle. By this time several of the Rangers had gathered round, and these foreseeing, from the appearance of the mule and the look of sly amusement in the face of the muleteer, that there was likely to be some fun, at once proposed to assist, which they did by giving advice to Sam of the most opposite nature. Sam was first going to mount on the off side, but this irregularity was repressed, and one wag, taking the stirrup of the near side in his hand, said, "Now, Sam, up you go, never mind what these fellows say, you put your right foot in the stirrup, and lift your left over the saddle."
Sam acted according to these instructions, and found himself, to his intense amazement and the delight of the bystanders, sitting with his face to the mule's tail.
"Hullo," he exclaimed in astonishment, "dis all wrong; you know noting about de business, you Bill Atkins."
And Sam prepared to descend, when, at his first movement, the mule put down his head and flung his heels high in the air. Sam instinctively threw himself forward, but not recovering his upright position before the mule again flung up her hind quarters, he received a violent blow on the nose. "Golly!" exclaimed the black in a tone of extreme anguish, as, with water streaming from his eyes, he instinctively clutched the first thing which came to hand, the root of the mule's tail, and held on like grim death. The astonished mule lashed out wildly and furiously, but Sam, with his body laid close on her back, his hands grasping her tail, and his legs and feet pressing tight to her flanks, held on with the clutch of despair.
"Seize de debil!—seize him!—he gone mad!"—he shouted frantically, but the soldiers were in such fits of laughter that they could do nothing.
Then the mule, finding that he could not get rid of this singular burden by kicking, started suddenly off at full gallop.
"Stop him—stop him," yelled Sam. "Gracious me, dis am drefful."
This was the sight which met the eyes of the Scudamores and their brother officers as they issued from their tents. The soldiers were all out of their tents now, and the air rang with laughter mingled with shouts of "Go it, moke!" "Hold on, Sam!"
"Stop that mule," Captain Manley shouted, "or the man will be killed."
Several soldiers ran to catch at the bridle, but the mule swerved and dashed away out of camp along the road.
"Look, look," Tom said, "there are the staff, and Lord Wellington among them. The mule's going to charge them."
The road was somewhat narrow, with a wall of four feet high on either side, and the general, who was riding at the head of the party, drew his rein when he saw the mule coming along at a furious gallop. The staff did the same, and a general shout was raised to check or divert her wild career. The obstinate brute, however, maddened by the shouts which had greeted her from all sides, and the strange manner in which she was being ridden, never swerved from her course. When she was within five yards of the party, the general turned his horse, touched him with his spur, and leaped him lightly over the wall; one or two others followed his example, but the others had not time to do so before the mule was among them. Two horses and riders were thrown down, one on either side, with the impetus of the shock, and then, kicking, striking and charging, the animal made its way past the others and dashed on in despite of the attempts to stop her, and the cries of "Shoot the brute," "Ride him down," and the angry ejaculations of those injured in its passage. Thirty yards behind the group of officers were the escort, and these prepared to catch the mule, when turning to the left she leaped the wall, eliciting a scream of terror from Sam, who was nearly shaken from his hold by the sudden jerk.
The anger of the officers was changed into a burst of amusement at seeing Sam's dark face and staring eyes over the mule's crupper, and even Lord Wellington smiled grimly. An order was hastily given, and four troopers detached themselves from the escort and started off in pursuit. The mule was, however, a fast one, and maddened by fright, and it was some time before the foremost of the troopers was up to her. As he came alongside, the mule suddenly swerved round and lashed out viciously, one of her heels coming against the horse's ribs, and the other against the leg of the rider, who, in spite of his thick jack-boot, for some time thought that his leg was broken.
He fell behind, and the others, rendered cautious by the lesson, came up but slowly, and prepared to close upon the animal's head, one from each side. Just as they were going to do so, however, they were startled by a scattered fire of musketry, and by the sound of balls whizzing about their ears, and discovered that in the ardor of the chase they had passed over the space which separated the French from the English lines, and that they were close to the former. At the same moment they saw a party of cavalry stealing round to cut off their retreat. Turning their horses, the dragoons rode off at full speed, but the French cavalry, on fresher horses, would have caught them before they reached the English lines had not a troop of British horse dashed forward to meet them upon seeing their danger. As to the mule, she continued her wild gallop into the French lines, where she was soon surrounded and captured.
The boys were greatly vexed at the loss of their faithful black, but they had little time for grieving, for an hour after they rode off with General Beresford's division. Three days' march brought them to Campo Mayor, a town which had, two days before, surrendered to the French, who, surprised by the sudden appearance of the British, evacuated the place hastily and retreated, after suffering much from a brilliant charge of the 13th Hussars, who, although unsupported, charged right through the French cavalry, and Beresford then prepared to lay siege to Badajos. Had he pushed forward at once, he would have found the place unprepared for a siege, but, delaying a few days at Elvas to give his tired troops repose, the French repaired the walls, and were in a position to offer a respectable defense, when he made his appearance under its walls. The army was very badly provided with heavy guns, but the approaches were opened and the siege commenced in regular form, when the news arrived that Soult was marching with a powerful army to its relief. The guns were therefore withdrawn, the siege raised, and Beresford marched to meet Soult at Albuera.
On the 15th of May he took up his position on rising ground looking down on Albuera, having the river in his front. Acting with him, and nominally under his orders, was a Spanish force under Blake. This was intended to occupy the right of the position, but with the usual Spanish dilatoriness, instead of being upon the ground, as he had promised, by noon, Blake did not arrive until past midnight; the French accordingly crossed the river unmolested, and the British general found his right turned.
Beresford's position was now a very faulty one, as the woods completely hid the movements of the enemy, and a high hill, which they had at once seized, flanked the whole allied position and threatened its line of retreat.
When the morning of the 16th dawned the armies were numerically very unequal. The British had 30,000 infantry, 2,000 cavalry, and 38 guns; the French, 19,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and 40 guns; but of these the French were all veteran troops, while Beresford had but 6,000 British troops, the remainder being Spanish and Portuguese, upon whom no reliance whatever was to be placed. The British officers present were all of opinion that their chances of success, under the circumstances, were slight indeed.
The battle commenced at nine in the morning by an attack by the French general Godinot upon the bridge of Albuera. Their columns were, however, so completely plowed by the guns of the Portuguese upon the eminence behind it, that they made no progress, and Beresford perceived at once that the main attack would be made on his right. He despatched Tom Scudamore with orders to Blake to throw back his troops at right angles to the main front. The pig-headed Spaniard refused to obey, asserting that the main attack was in front. Colonel Hardinge was sent to insist upon the order being carried out, but Blake still refused, and Beresford himself rode furiously across and took the command just as the French column debouched from the wood on the right.
Before the Spanish movement was completed the French were among them. Their cavalry swept round to the right rear, and menaced the line of retreat, the infantry charged the wavering Spanish battalions, and the latter at once fell into confusion and began to fall back. William Stewart now arrived with a brigade of the second division to endeavor to retrieve the day; but as they were advancing into position, four regiments of French cavalry, whose movements were hidden in the driving rain until they were close at hand, fell upon them and rode down two-thirds of the brigade, the 31st regiment alone having time to form square and repulse the horsemen.
Beresford himself, with his staff, was in the middle of the melee, and the lads found themselves engaged in hand-to-hand combats with the French troopers. All was confusion. Peter was unhorsed by the shock of a French hussar, but Tom shot the trooper before he could cut Peter down. Free for a moment, he looked round, and saw a French lancer charging, lance at rest, at Lord Beresford. "Look out, sir!" he shouted, and the general, turning round, swept aside the lance thrust with his arm; and as the lancer, carried on by the impetus of his charge, dashed against him, he seized him by the throat and waist, lifted him bodily from his saddle, and hurled him insensible to the ground. Just at this moment General Lumley arrived with some Portuguese cavalry, and the French lancers galloped off.
The Spanish cavalry, who had orders to charge the French cavalry in flank, galloped up until within a few yards of them, and then turned and fled shamefully.
Beresford, now furious at the cowardice of the Spanish infantry, seized one of their ensigns by the shoulder, and dragged him, with his colors, to the front by main force, but the infantry would not even then advance.
The driving rain saved the allied army at this critical moment, for Soult was unable to see the terrible confusion which reigned in their ranks, and kept his heavy columns in hand when an attack would have carried with it certain victory.
In the pause which ensued, the British regiments began to make their way to the front. Colbourn, with the 31st Regiment, was already there; Stewart brought up Haughton's brigade; and the 29th burst its way through the flying Spaniards and joined the 31st, these movements being made under a storm of shot and shell from the French artillery. Colonel Hartman brought up the British artillery, and the Spanish generals Zayas and Ballesteros succeeded in checking and bringing forward again some of the Spanish infantry.
The French advanced in great force, the artillery on both sides poured in grape at short distance, and the carnage was terrible. Still the little band of British held their ground. Stewart was twice wounded, Haughton and Colonels Duckworth and Inglis slain. Of the 57th Regiment twenty-two officers and four hundred men fell out of the five hundred that had mounted the hill, and the other regiments had suffered nearly as severely. Not a third were standing unhurt, and fresh columns of the French were advancing.
The battle looked desperate, and Beresford made preparations for a retreat. At this moment, however, Colonel Hardinge brought up General Cole with the fourth division, and Colonel Abercrombie with the third brigade of Colbourn's second division. Beresford recalled his order for retreat, and the terrible fight continued. The fourth division was composed of two brigades, the one, a Portuguese under General Harvey, was pushed down to the right to keep off the French cavalry, while the Fusilier brigade, composed of the 7th and 23rd fusilier regiments, under Sir William Myers, climbed the desperately contested hill, which Abercombie ascended also, more on the left.
It was time, for the whole of the French reserves were now coming into action; six guns were already in the enemy's possession, the remnant of Haughton's brigade could no longer sustain its ground, and the heavy French columns were advancing exultantly to assured victory.
Suddenly, through the smoke, Cole's fusilier brigade appeared on the right of Haughton's brigade, just as Abercrombie came up on its left. Startled by the sight, and by the heavy fire, the French column paused, and, to quote Napier's glowing words, "hesitated, and then, vomiting forth a storm of fire, hastily endeavored to enlarge their front, while a fearful discharge of grape from all their artillery whistled through the British ranks. Myers was killed, Cole and the three colonels, Ellis, Blakeney and Hawkshawe, fell wounded; and the fusilier battalions, struck by the iron tempest, reeled and staggered like sinking ships; but suddenly and sternly recovering, they closed with their terrible enemies, and then was seen with what a strength and majesty the British soldier fights. In vain did Soult with voice and gesture animate his Frenchmen; in vain did the hardiest veterans break from the crowded columns and sacrifice their lives to gain time for the mass to open out on such a fair field; in vain did the mass itself bear up, and, fiercely striving, fire indiscriminately upon friends and foes, while the horsemen hovering on its flank threatened to charge the advancing line. Nothing could stop that astonishing infantry; no sudden burst of undisciplined valor, no nervous enthusiasm weakened the stability of their order; their flashing eyes were bent on the dark columns in their front, their measured tread shook the ground, their dreadful volleys swept away the head of every formation, their deafening shouts overpowered the dissonant cries that broke from all parts of the tumultuous crowd, as, slowly and with horrid carnage, it was pushed by the incessant vigor of the attack to the farthest edge of the hill. In vain did the French reserves mix with the struggling multitude to sustain the fight; their efforts only increased the irremediable confusion, and the mighty mass breaking off like a loosened cliff, went headlong down the steep; the rain flowed after in streams discolored with blood, and eighteen hundred unwounded men, the remnant of six thousand unconquerable British soldiers, stood triumphant on the fatal hill."
While this dreadful fight was going on, Hamilton's and Collier's Portuguese divisions, ten thousand strong, marched to support the British, but they did not reach the summit of the hill until the battle was over; they suffered, however, a good deal of loss from the French artillery, which, to cover the retreat, opened furiously upon them.
The French were in no position to renew the attack, the allies quite incapable of pursuit, and when night fell the two armies were in the same position they had occupied twenty-four hours before.
Never was British valor more conspicuously displayed than at the battle of Albuera. Out of 6,000 infantry they lost 4,200 killed and wounded, while the Spanish and Portuguese had but 2,600 killed and wounded out of a total of 34,000; the French loss was over 8,000.
This desperate fight had lasted but four hours, but to all engaged it seemed an age. The din, the whirl, the storm of shot, the fierce charges of the cavalry, the swaying backwards and forwards of the fight, the disastrous appearance of the battle from the first, all combined to make up a perfectly bewildering confusion.
The Scudamores, after its commencement, had seen but little of each other. Whenever one or other of them found their way to the general, who was ever in the thickest of the fray, it was but to remain there for a moment or two before being despatched with fresh messages.
Tom's horse was shot under him early in the day, but he obtained a remount from an orderly and continued his duty until, just as the day was won, he received a musket ball in the shoulder. He half fell, half dismounted, and, giddy and faint, lay down and remained there until the cessation of the fire told him that the battle was over. Then he staggered to his feet and sought a surgeon. He presently found one hard at work under a tree, but there was so large a number of wounded men lying or sitting round, that Tom saw that it would be hours before he could be attended to. As he turned to go he saw an officer of the staff ride by.
"Ah, Scudamore! Are you hit too?—not very badly, I hope? The chief was asking after you just now."
"My shoulder is smashed, I think," Tom said, "and the doctor has his hands full at present; but if you will tie my arm tight across my chest with my sash, I shall be able to get on."
The officer at once leapt from his horse, and proceeded to bind Tom's arm in the position he requested.
"Have you seen my brother," Tom asked.
"No, I have not; he was close to Beresford when the fusiliers dashed up the hill; his horse fell dead, but he was not hit, for I saw him jump up all right. I did not see him afterwards. As he could not have got a fresh mount then, I expect he joined the fusiliers and went up the hill."
"Is the loss heavy?" Tom asked.
"Awful—awful," the officer said. "If it had lasted another quarter of an hour, there would have been nobody left alive; as it is, there are not 2,000 men at the outside on their feet."
"What, altogether?" Tom exclaimed.
"Altogether," the officer answered sadly. "We have lose two men out of every three who went into it."
"Thank you," Tom said. "Now where shall I find the general?"
"Up on the hill. I shall see you there in a few minutes. I hope you will find your brother all right."
Very slowly did Tom make his way up the steep slope, sitting down to rest many times, for he was faint from loss of blood and sick with the pain of his wound, and it was a long half hour before he joined the group of officers clustered round the commander-in-chief.
He was heartily greeted; but in answer to his question as to whether any one had seen his brother, no one could give a satisfactory reply. One, however, was able to confirm what had been before told to him, for he had seen Peter on foot advancing with the fusilier brigade. Tom's heart felt very heavy as he turned away towards the front, where the fusiliers were standing on the ground they had so hardly won. The distance he had to traverse was but short, but the journey was a ghastly one. The ground was literally heaped with dead. Wounded men were seen sitting up trying to stanch their wounds, others lay feebly groaning, while soldiers were hurrying to and fro from the water carts, with pannikins of water to relieve their agonizing thirst.
"Do you know, sergeant, whether they have collected the wounded officers, and, if so, where they are?"
"Yes, sir, most of them are there at the right flank of the regiment."
Tom made his way towards the spot indicated, where a small group of officers were standing, while a surgeon was examining a long line of wounded laid side by side upon the ground. Tom hardly breathed as he ran his eye along their faces, and his heart seemed to stop as he recognized in the very one the surgeon was then examining the dead-white face of Peter.
He staggered forward and said in a gasping voice, "He is my brother—is he dead?"
The surgeon looked up. "Sit down," he said sharply, and Tom, unable to resist the order, sank rather than sat down, his eyes still riveted on Peter's face.
"No," the surgeon said, answering the question, "he has only fainted from loss of blood, but he is hit hard, the bullet has gone in just above the hip, and until I know its course I can't say whether he has a chance or not."
"Here, sergeant, give me the probe," and with this he proceeded cautiously to examine the course of the ball. As he did so his anxious face brightened a little.
"He was struck slantingly," he said, "the ball has gone round by the back; turn him over, sergeant. Ah, I thought so; it has gone out on the other side. Well, I think it has missed any vital part, and in that case I can give you hope. There," he said after he had finished dressing the wound and fastening a bandage tightly round the body; "now pour some brandy-and-water down his throat, sergeant, and sprinkle his face with water. Now, sir, I will look at your shoulder."
But he spoke to insensible ears, for Tom, upon hearing the more favorable report as to Peter's state, had fainted dead off.
The surgeon glanced at him. "He'll come round all right," he said. "I will go on in the mean time," and set to work at the next in the ghastly line.
It was some time before Tom recovered his consciousness; when he did so, it was with a feeling of intense agony in the shoulder.
"Lie quiet," the surgeon said, "I shan't be long about it."
It seemed to Tom, nevertheless, as if an interminable time passed before the surgeon spoke again.
"You'll do," he said. "It is an awkward shot, for it has broken the shoulder bone and carried a portion away, but with quiet and care you will get the use of your arm again. You are lucky, for if it had gone two inches to the left it would have smashed the arm at the socket, and two inches the other way and it would have been all up with you. Now lie quiet for awhile; you can do nothing for your brother at present. It may be hours before he recovers consciousness."
Tom was too faint and weak to argue, and a minute later he dropped off to sleep, from which he did not wake until it was dusk. Sitting up, he saw that he had been aroused by the approach of an officer, whom he recognized as one of General Beresford's staff.
"How are you, Scudamore?" he asked. "The general has just sent me to inquire."
"He is very kind," Tom said. "I think that I am all right, only I am horribly thirsty."
The officer unslung a flask from his shoulder. "This is weak brandy-and-water. I have brought it over for you. I am sorry to hear your brother is so bad, but the doctor gives strong hopes of him in his report."
Tom bent down over Peter. "He is breathing quietly," he said. "I hope it is a sort of sleep he has fallen into. What are we doing?"
"Nothing," the officer answered; "there is nothing to do; every unbounded man is under arms in case the French attack us in the night. I expect, however, they will wait till morning, and if they come on then, I fear our chance is a slight one indeed. We have only 1,800 of our infantry; the German regiments and the Portuguese will do their best; but the Spanish are utterly useless. Soult has lost more men than we have, but we are like a body which has lost its back-bone; and if the French, who are all good soldiers, renew the battle, I fear it is all up with us."
"Have you got all our wounded in?" Tom asked.
"No," the officer said bitterly. "Our unwounded men must stand to arms, and Lord Beresford sent over to Blake just now to ask for the assistance of a battalion of Spaniards to collect our wounded, and the brute sent back to say that it was the custom in allied armies for each army to attend to its own wounded."
"The brute!" Tom repeated with disgust. "How the poor fellows must be suffering!"
"The men who are but slightly wounded have been taking water to all they can find, and the doctors are at work now, and will be all night going about dressing wounds. The worst of it is, if the fight begins again to-morrow, all the wounded who cannot crawl away must remain under fire. However, the French wounded are all over the hill too, and perhaps the French will avoid a cannonade as much as possible, for their sake. It is a bad look-out altogether; and between ourselves, Beresford has written to Lord Wellington to say that he anticipates a crushing defeat."
"Is there any chance of reinforcements?" Tom asked.
"We hope that the third brigade of the fourth division will be up to-morrow by midday; they are ordered to come on by forced marches. If Soult does not attack till they arrive, it will make all the difference, for 1,500 fresh men will nearly double our strength. But I must be going now. Good-bye."
The surgeon presently came round again to see how the wounded officers were getting on. Tom asked him whether there was anything he could do for Peter; but the surgeon, after feeling his pulse, said: "No, not as long as he breathes quietly like this; but if he moves pour a little brandy-and-water down his throat. Now gentlemen, all who can must look after the others, for there is not an available man, and I must be at work all night on the field."
There were many of the officers who were not hit too severely to move about, and these collected some wood and made a fire, so as to enable them to see and attend to their more severely wounded comrades. Tom took his place close to Peter, where he could watch his least movement, and once or twice during the night poured a little brandy-and-water between his lips. The other officers took it by turns to attend to their comrades, to keep up the fire, and to sleep. Those whose turn it was to be awake sat round the fire smoking, and talking as to the chances of the morrow, getting up occasionally to give drink to such of the badly wounded as were awake.
Tom, faint with his wound, found it, towards morning, impossible to keep awake, and dozed off, to wake with a start and find that it was broad daylight. Soon afterwards, to his intense satisfaction, Peter opened his eyes. Tom bent over him. "Don't try to move, Peter; lie quiet, old boy."
"What's the matter?" Peter asked with a puzzled look.
"You have been hit in the body, Peter, but the doctor means to get you round in no time. Yes," he continued, seeing Peter's eyes fixed on his bandaged shoulder, "I have had a tap too, but there's no great harm done. There, drink some brandy-and-water, and go off to sleep again, if you can."
The morning passed very slowly, the troops being all under arms, expecting the renewed attack of Soult, but it came not; and when early in the afternoon, the third brigade of the fourth division marched into camp, they were received with general cheering. A heavy load seemed taken off every one's heart, and they felt now that they could fight, if fight they must, with a hope of success.
The new-comers, wearied as they were with their long forced marches, at once took the outpost duties, and those relieved set about the duty of collecting and bringing in all the wounded.
Next morning the joyful news came that Soult was retiring, and all felt with a thrill of triumph that their sacrifices and efforts had not been in vain, and that the hard-fought battle of Albuera was forever to take its place among the great victories of the British army.
Two days after the battle of Albuera, Lord Wellington himself arrived, and from the officers of his staff Tom heard the details of the battle of Fuentes d'Onoro, which had been fought a few days previously, and which had been nearly as hardly contested as had Albuera itself, both sides claiming the victory.
The next day, the bulk of Beresford's army returned to the neighborhood of Badajos, which they again invested, while a long convoy of wounded started for Lisbon. The Scudamores accompanied it as far as Campo Major, where a large hospital had been prepared for those too ill to bear the journey. Peter was still unconscious. Fever had set in upon the day after the battle, and for three weeks he lay between life and death. Tom's arm was mending very slowly, and he would have had hard work indeed in nursing Peter had it not been for the arrival of unexpected assistance. A large villa had been taken close to the main hospital for the use of officers, and one of the rooms was allotted to the Scudamores.
Upon the evening of the second day after their arrival, Tom was sitting by Peter's bedside, when, after a preliminary tap, the door opened, and to Tom's perfect amazement Sambo entered. The negro hurried forward, threw himself on his knees, seized Tom's hand and kissed it passionately, and then looking at the thin and fever-flushed face of Peter, he hid his face in his hands and sobbed unrestrainedly.
"Hush, Sam, hush," Tom said soothingly. "My poor fellow, why, where have you come from? I thought you were a prisoner with the French."
"I knew how it would be, Massa Tom," the black said, paying no attention to the questions. "First thing Sam said to himself when he got among French fellows, 'Dere, dose young gentlemen dey get into all sorts of danger widout Sam, sartin sure dey get hurt widout Sam to look after dem.' Dat idea troubled Sam berry much, took away Sam's sleep altogether."
"Well it turned out so, as you see, Sam," Tom said with a smile, "but tell me how did you get away? But first give me some lemonade out of that jug, then you can tell me all about it."
"Why, Massa Tom," Sam said, when he had complied with the request, "you didn't think dat dis chile was going to stop prisoner with dose French chaps; Sam not such a fool as dat, nohow. When dat cussed mule—I tell you fair, Massa Tom, dis chile conclude dat riding not such a berry easy ting after all—when dat cussed mule ran into French camp, de soldiers dey catch him, and dey take Sam off, and den dey jabber and laugh for all de world like great lots of monkeys. Well, for some time Sam he didn't say nothing, all de wind shook out of his body. Besides which he couldn't understand what dey say. Den all of a sudden, to Sam's surprise, up came a colored soldier, and he speak to Sam in de English tongue. 'Holla, broder, how you come here?" I ask. 'I been cook on board English merchant ship,' he say. 'Ship she taken by French privateer. When dey come to port dey say to me, "You not Englishman, you hab choice, you go to prison, or you be French soldier." Natural, I not want go prison, so I conclude be French soldier. I daresay dey gib you choice too.' Well, massa, a wink as good as a nod to blind hoss. So dey take me to tent, put me under guard, and next day a French officer come dat speak English. He ask me all sorts ob questions, and at last he ask me why I list English soldier. So you see I had got a little lie all ready, and me tell him, me one poor Melican negro man, cook on board Melican ship. Ship taken by English man-ob-war. Put Sam in prison and give him choice to go as soldier. "Den you not care about English,' de officer say, and Sam draw hisself up and pat his chest and say, 'Me Melican citizen, me no Britisher's slave, some day me go back States, go on board Melican man-ob-war, me pay out dese Britishers for make Sam slave.' Den de officer laugh, and say dat if I like I could fight dem now; and if I prefer French uniform to French prison, me could have him. Ob course I accep' offer, and harp an hour after me in French uniform. French officer try to make joke ob Sam, and ask whether I like cavalry or foot soldier. Sam say he had enuff of quadruples at present. Me remain French soldier three weeks, den cum great battle, dey call him Fuentes donory. Sam's regiment fight. Sam not like fire at red coats, so break bullet off catridge, neber put him in gun. We charge right into middle of village full of English soldiers, de bullets fly all about. Sam not see de point ob getting kill by mistake, so he tumble down, pretend to be dead. Presently French beaten back; when English soldier wid doctor cum look at wounded, dey turn Sam ober, and dey say, 'Hullo, here dead nigger.' 'Nigger yourself, John Atkins,' I say for sure enuff it's de ole regiment—'you say dat once again me knock your head off;' me jump up, and all de world call out, 'Hullo, why it's Sam.' Den me splain matter, and all berry glad, cept John Atkins, and next morning me gib him licking he member all his life, me pound him most to a squash. Four days ago colonel send for Sam, say, 'Sam, berry bad job, bofe Massas wounded bad, send you to nurse dem;' so dis chile come. Dat all, Massa Tom. Here letter for you from colonel, now you read dis letter, den you get in bed, you sleep all night, Sam watch Massa Peter."
Greatly relieved to have his faithful servant again, and to know that Peter would be well cared for, instead of being left in charge of the Spanish hospital orderly, whenever weakness and pain obliged him to lie down, Tom abandoned his place by the bedside, and prepared for a tranquil night's rest, first reading the colonel's letter.
"We are all grieved, my dear Scudamore, at hearing that you are both wounded, and that your brother is at present in a serious state. We trust, however, that he will pull through. I hear that Beresford has praised you both most highly in despatches, and that your names are sent home for companies. I heartily congratulate you. We have had some tough work at Fuentes d'Onoro, although nothing to what yours must have been at Albuera, still it was hot enough in all conscience, and we had over a hundred casualties in the regiment. Carruthers and Manley were both slightly wounded. Jones, Anstruther, Palmer, and Chambers were killed, and several of the others hit more or less hard. Sam has leave to remain with you until you rejoin, which will not, I fear, be for some little time. Every one sends kind messages. Yours truly, J. Tritton."
Nothing could exceed the care and devotion with which Sam nursed his two masters, and Tom had the greatest difficulty in persuading him to lie down and get a short sleep each day while he sat by Peter's bed. At the end of three weeks Peter took a favorable turn. His fever abated, and he awoke to consciousness. Another fortnight and he was sufficiently convalescent to be moved, and accordingly they started to travel by very easy stages to Lisbon, there to take ship for England, as the doctor ordered Tom as well as his brother to go home for a while to recruit. Tom was the less reluctant to do so, as it was evident that with the force at his command Wellington would not be able to undertake any great operation, and that the siege and capture of Badajoz was the utmost likely to be accomplished in that season's campaign. The mails in due course had brought out the Gazette, and in it Tom and Peter Scudamore were promoted to be captains, unattached.
Colonel Tritton, upon being applied to, readily gave leave for Sam to accompany his masters. It was a long journey to Lisbon, but the jolting of the country cart was made bearable by a layer of hay, two feet deep, upon which the mattresses were laid, Sam seeing that at each night's halt the hay was taken out, well shaken, and then returned to the cart, so as to preserve it light and elastic. A thick canopy of boughs kept off the heat of the sun, and under it, within reach of the invalids hung a gourd of fresh water, and a basket of fruit. Several other cart-loads of wounded officers accompanied them, and at night they would draw up by a grove of trees where water was handy, those who could walk would get out, the others would be lifted out on their mattresses, a great fire made, and round it the beds laid in a circle, and then the evening would be spent in pleasant chat, with many an anecdote and an occasional song, until the fire burnt low, the talk died away, and each, covered in his blankets to keep off the night dew, fell asleep. Pleasant as was the journey, however, it was with a thrill of delight that they caught their first sight of Lisbon, with its broad river, and the blue line of the sea beyond. A few days later, and they embarked on board a transport, which seven days afterwards, after a calm passage, arrived at Spithead.
Peter was by this time gaining strength fast, but his back was so stiff and sore that he was unable to move it, and was obliged to swing himself along on crutches. The next day the coach took them to London, and they started the morning after for Marlborough. This time they had to go inside the coach, two gentlemen, who had previously secured the seats, kindly giving them up in favor of the wounded young officers, while Sam took his place on the roof, and amused his fellow-passengers with wonderful accounts of his adventures at the war. At the inn at which they took dinner, they alighted, and Tom recognized in the driver the same coachman who had driven them upon the memorable occasion of their being stopped by highwaymen three years before. "You don't remember us, coachman, do you?"
"No, gentlemen, I can't say as how,—but eh! no, why you're the werry boys as shot the highwaymen. Well, I am glad to see you again, though you do look white and bad, both of you. I heard as how there were two wounded officers inside, and that black soldier has been telling all sorts of tales of the wonderful things as his masters had done, but not knowing as how it was you, I didn't much believe all he was telling. Now I quite see as how it was true; and how are you both?"
"Getting on all right," Tom said, returning the warm shake of the coachman's hand, "and do you know, those pistols have saved our lives more than once."
"Have they now," the coachman said, in high admiration, "but there, we most be moving, we are three minutes after time as it is; I shall see you again next time we stop, gentlemen."
During the next stage the coachman and guard recounted to the outside passengers the affair of the stopping the coach, and Sam's black face shone with delight at the tale. Then he had his say, and related the story of his falling overboard and being rescued, and in consequence the lads were quite embarrassed when they next halted, by the attention of their fellow-travelers, who could scarcely understand how it was possible that two mere boys should have performed such feats of bravery.
Arrived at Marlborough they looked round in vain for the one-horsed vehicle which had before met them. "I expect that aunt has not got our letter, Peter," Tom said. "It would probably go up to town in the coach with us, and is likely enough in the letter-bag in the boot. Well, we must have a post-chaise. Won't aunt and Rhoda be surprised; but they must be expecting us, because they will have had our letter from Lisbon."
The horses were soon in, Sam took his seat in the rumble, and in a few minutes they were bounding over the road at a very different pace to that at which they had before traversed it. "There's the house among the trees," Peter said at last, "with aunt's pigeons on the roof as usual, and there's Minnie asleep on the window-sill, and there! yes, there's Rhoda."
As he spoke a girl, who was sitting reading under a tree, leapt to her feet, on hearing a carriage stop, and then, catching sight of Peter waving his hat, while Tom made frantic efforts to open the door, gave a scream of delight, and rushed towards them, threw her arms round Tom's neck as he jumped out, and then leapt into the chaise and hugged and cried over Peter. He was soon helped out, and as they turned to go towards the house they saw their aunt coming out to meet them.
Tom ran forward and throwing his arms round her neck kissed her heartily, and before she could recover from her surprise, Peter was alongside. "Please, aunt, you must kiss me," he said, "for I want my arms for my crutches." His aunt leaned forward and kissed him, and then wiped the tears from her eyes.
"I am glad to see you back, my dear nephews," she said. "We did not understand each other very well before, but we shan't make any more mistakes. This is your black servant, I suppose," she said, as Sam came along, with a trunk in each hand. "Dear! dear! what a dreadfully ugly man."
"How do you do, Sam?" Rhoda said, when he came up. "We have heard so much of you, and how kindly you nursed my brothers."
"Sam quite well, tank you, little missy," Sam said, grinning all over his face and showing his white teeth.
Miss Scudamore shrank towards Tom as Sam passed on, "Dear me, what sharp-looking teeth he has, Tom. They don't eat curious things, these black men, do they?"
"What sort of curious things, aunt?"
"Well, my dear, I know that these outlandish people do eat strange things, and I have heard the Chinese eat dogs and cats. Now, if he has a fancy for cats, I daresay I could buy him some in the village, only he will have to cook them himself, I could never ask Hannah to cook cats; but please ask him not to touch Minnie."
Peter had to stop in his walk and grasp his crutches tightly, not to burst into a scream of laughter, while Tom answered with great gravity, "My dear aunt, do not alarm yourself, I will answer for the safety of Minnie as far as Sam is concerned."
When they reached the house, Miss Scudamore said—
"I think you young people will enjoy yourselves more if you go and sit under the shade of the elm there, you will have a deal to say to each other, and had better be alone." They were all glad at the suggestion, as they were longing to be alone together.
Sam, by Miss Scudamore's directions, carried out a great easy chair, of which Peter took possession. Rhoda sat on the grass at his feet, and Tom threw himself down at full length. They were all too happy to speak much for a time, and could only look fondly at each other. "You have grown a great deal, Rhoda, but I do not think that you are altered a bit otherwise."
"You are neither of you altered so much as I expected," Rhoda said. "I had made up my mind that you would be changed a great deal. It sounds so grand—Captains, indeed! I expected to have curtsey to you and treat you with great respect; instead of that you look regular boys, both of you. Of course you are big, and Peter looks very tall; how tall are you, Peter?"
"Just over six feet," Peter said.
"Yes," Rhoda said, "you are tall enough, and Tom is broad enough for men, but somehow you look regular boys still."
"This is very disrespectful Rhoda, to two Captains in His Majesty's service."
"It seems ridiculous, doesn't it," Rhoda said.
"It does," Tom said heartily, and the three went off into a shout of laughter.
"It isn't really ridiculous you know," Rhoda said, when they had recovered their gravity. "To think of all the dangers you have gone through. Aunt was as proud as could be when she saw your names over and over again in despatches, and I have been like a little peacock. Your doings have been the talk of every one round here, and I am sure that if they had known you had been coming, the village would have put up a triumphal arch, and presented you with an address."
"Thank goodness, they did not know it then," Tom said, "for it would have been a deal worse to stand than the fire of a French battery. Well, Rhoda, and now as to yourself; so you have really been always very happy with aunt?"
"Very happy," Rhoda said; "she is most kind and indulgent, and so that I attend to her little fancies, I can do just as I like. I have had lessons regularly from the rector's eldest daughter, who has been educated for a governess; and in every respect, aunt is all that is kind. Fancy her being afraid of Sam eating Minnie."
After chatting for upwards of an hour, they went into the house, and the rest of the day was spent in talking over all that had happened since they left. Sam was in the kitchen where he made himself very much at home, and although Hannah and the cook were at first rather awed by his size, his black face and rolling eyes, they were soon pacified by his good humor and readiness to make himself useful, and were wonderfully interested by his long stories about what "Massas" had done in the war.
Miss Scudamore, who was a little uneasy as to how things would go on in the kitchen, made some excuse for going in once or twice in the course of the evening. She found things going on much better that she had expected, indeed so much better, that after Rhoda had gone up to bed, where Peter had two hours before betaken himself, she said to Tom as he was lighting his candle, "One minute, nephew; I could not speak before Rhoda, but I wanted to say something to you about your negro. I have heard that all soldiers are very much given to make love, and we know from Shakespeare, that Othello, who was black too, you will remember, nephew, made love to Desdemona, which shows that color does not make so much difference as one would think. Now I do hope your man will not make love to Hannah, I don't think she would like it, my dear, and yet you know she might; one never knows what women will do; they are always making fools of themselves," she added angrily, thinking at the moment how a young girl she had trained up as a cook had, after being with her three years, left a few weeks before to marry the village blacksmith, "and I should be sorry to lose Hannah. She has been with us more than twenty years. If he must fall in love with one, my dear, let it be the cook."
Tom had a great command of his countenance, but he had great difficulty in steadying his muscles. After a moment or two he said, "I will give Sam a hint, aunt, if it becomes necessary, but I do not think you need fear. I do not fancy Sam is matrimonially inclined at present, and he wouldn't leave us even to marry Desdemona herself. Good night, aunt."
So saying, Tom went upstairs, where he repeated to Peter, who was still awake, his conversation with his aunt, and the two went into shouts of laughter over the idea of Sam making love to the prim Hannah.
The next six months passed over quietly and happily. The boys were made a great deal of by the whole county, and Miss Scudamore was greatly gratified at the name and credit they had gained for themselves. She no longer worried about them, but as Rhoda declared, quite spoiled them, and as Sam made no attempt to win the love of the faithful Hannah, there was no cloud to mar the pleasure of the holiday.
CIUDAD RODRIGO AND BADAJOS.
It was in the beginning of December, 1811, that the Scudamores again sailed up the Tagus to Lisbon, after an absence of just six months. When they had passed the medical board, they were transferred from the unattached list to the 52d Regiment, which was, fortunately for them, also in Spain. No events of great importance had taken place during their absence. Wellington, after the battles of Fuentes d'Onoro and Albuera, had been compelled to fall back again to the frontier in the face of greatly superior forces, and had maintained his old position on the Coa till the approach of winter compelled the French to retire into the interior, where they had their magazines and depots.
The Scudamores found that the 52d were encamped on the Agueda, and they at once prepared to go up country to join them. Their chargers—presents from their aunt on leaving—were fresh and vigorous, and they purchased a strong country horse for Sambo, who, thanks to some practice which he had had in England, was now able to cut a respectable figure on horseback. A few hours were sufficient to make their preparations, and at noon on the day after landing, they mounted, and, followed by Sam, accompanied by a muleteer and two mules carrying their baggage, they started from the hotel at which they had put up.
As they rode down the main street they saw several mounted officers approaching, and at once recognized in the leader the commander-in-chief, who had just arrived from the front to pay one of his flying visits, to endeavor to allay the jealousies in the Portuguese Council, and to insist upon the food which the British Government was actually paying for, being supplied to the starving Portuguese soldiers. Drawing their horses aside, they saluted Lord Wellington as he rode past. He glanced at them keenly, as was his custom, and evidently recognized them as he returned the salute.
When he had passed, they turned their horses and continued their way. They had not gone fifty yards, however, when an officer came up at a gallop. Lord Wellington wished them to call at his quarters in an hour's time.
There are few things more annoying than, after having got through all the trouble of packing and getting fairly on the road, to be stopped; but there was no help for it, and the boys rode back to their hotel again, where, putting up their horses, they told Sam not to let the muleteer leave, for they should probably be on the road again in an hour.
At the appointed time they called at the head-quarters, and giving their cards to two officers on duty, took their seats in the anteroom. It now became evident to them that their chance of an early interview was not great, and that they would in all probability be obliged to pass another night in Madrid. Portuguese grandees passed in and out, staff officers of rank entered and left, important business was being transacted, and the chance of two Line captains having an interview with the commander-in-chief appeared but slight. Two hours passed wearily, and then an orderly sergeant came into the room and read out from a slip of paper the names "Captain Thomas Scudamore; Captain Peter Scudamore. This way, if you please," he added, as the boys rose in answer to their names, and he led the way into a room where a colonel on the staff was seated before a table covered with papers.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I have news which I think will be pleasant to you both. Lord Wellington has not forgotten the services you rendered in carrying his communications to the guerilla chiefs. Your reports were clear and concise, and your knowledge of Spanish especially valuable. Lord Beresford, too, has reported most favorably of your conduct while with him. There happen to be two vacancies on his staff, and he has desired me to fill them up with your names."
Although the Scudamores would in some respects rather have remained with their regiment, yet they could not refuse an honor which was generally coveted as being a post in which an active officer had plenty of opportunities of distinguishing himself, and which was certain to lead to speedy promotion. They accordingly expressed their warm thanks for the honor which Lord Wellington had done them.
"Are you well mounted?" Colonel Somerset asked.
"We have one capital charger each," Tom said.
"You will want another," Colonel Somerset remarked. "There are a lot of remounts landed to-day. Here is an order to Captain Halket, the officer in charge. Choose any two you like. The amount can be stopped from your pay. How about servants; you are entitled to two each?"
"We have one man of the Norfolk Rangers—a very faithful fellow, who has returned with us from leave; if he could be transferred, he would do for us both if we had a cavalry man each for our horses."
The colonel at once wrote an order for Sam's transfer from his regiment on detached service, and also one to the officer commanding a cavalry regiment stationed in Madrid, to supply them with two troopers as orderlies.
"May I ask, sir, if we are likely to stay in Madrid long—as, if so, we will look out for quarters?" Tom asked.
"No; the general returns to-morrow, or next day at latest, to Almeida, and of course you will accompany him. Oh, by-the-by, Lord Wellington will be glad if you will dine with him to-day—sharp six. By-the-way, you will want to get staff uniform. There is the address of a Spanish tailor, who has fitted out most of the men who have been appointed here. He works fast, and will get most of the things you want ready by to-morrow night. Don't get more things than are absolutely necessary—merely undress suits. Excuse my asking how are you off for money? I will give you an order on the paymaster if you like."
Tom replied that they had plenty of money, which indeed they had, for their aunt had given them so handsome a present upon starting, that they had tried to persuade her to be less generous, urging that they really had no occasion for any money beyond their pay. She had insisted, however, upon their accepting two checks, saying that one never knew what was wanted, and it was always useful to have a sum to fall back on in case of need.
Two days later the Scudamores, in their new staff uniforms, were, with some six or eight other officers, riding in the suite of Lord Wellington on the road to the Coa. The lads thought they had never had a more pleasant time, the weather was fine and the temperature delightful, their companions, all older somewhat than themselves, were yet all young men in high health and spirits. The pace was good, for Lord Wellington was a hard rider, and time was always precious with him. At the halting-places the senior officers of the staff kept together, while the aides-de-camp made up a mess of their own, always choosing a place as far away as possible from that of the chief, so that they could laugh, joke, and even sing, without fear of disturbing his lordship.
Sam soon became a high favorite with the light-hearted young fellows, and his services as forager for the mess were in high esteem.
Three days of hard riding took them to Almeida, where the breaches caused by the great explosion had been repaired, and the place put into a defensible position. Tom and Peter had been afraid that there would be at least four months of enforced inactivity before the spring; but they soon found that the post of aide-de-camp to Wellington was no sinecure. For the next month they almost lived in the saddle. The greater portion of the English army was indeed lying on the Agueda, but there were detached bodies of British and large numbers of Portuguese troops at various points along the whole line of the Portuguese frontier, and with the commanders of these Lord Wellington was in constant communication.
Towards the end of December some large convoys of heavy artillery arrived at Almeida, but every one supposed that they were intended to fortify this place, and none, even of those most in the confidence of the commander-in-chief, had any idea that a winter campaign was about to commence. The French were equally unsuspicious of the truth. Twice as strong as the British, they dreamt not that the latter would take the offensive, and the French marshals had scattered their troops at considerable distances from the frontier in winter quarters.
Upon the last day of the year the Scudamores both happened to have returned to the front—Tom from Lisbon, and Peter from a long ride to a distant Portuguese division. There was a merry party gathered round a blazing fire in the yard of the house where they, with several other aides-de-camp, were quartered. Some fifty officers of all ranks were present, for a general invitation had been issued to all unattached officers in honor of the occasion. Each brought in what liquor he could get hold of, and any provisions which he had been able to procure, and the evening was one of boisterous fun and jollity. In the great kitchen blazed a fire, before which chickens and ducks were roasting, turkeys and geese cut up in pieces for greater rapidity of cooking, were grilling over the fire, and as they came off the gridiron they were taken round by the soldier-servants to their masters as they sat about on logs of wood, boxes, and other substitutes for chairs. Most of the officers present had already supped, and the late-comers were finishing their frugal meal, after which the soldiers would take their turn. There was a brewing of punch and an uncorking of many a bottle of generous wine; then the song and laugh went round, and all prepared to usher in the new year joyously, when a colonel of the staff, who had been dining with Lord Wellington, entered. "Here's a seat, colonel," was shouted in a dozen places, but he shook his head and held up his hand.
"Gentlemen, I am sorry to disturb you, but orders must be obeyed. Villiers, Hogan, Scudamores both, Esdaile, Cooper, and Johnson, here are despatches which have to be taken off at once. Gentlemen, I should recommend you all to look to your horses. All attached to the transport had better go to their head-quarters for orders."
"What is up, colonel?" was the general question.
"The army moves forward at daybreak. We are going to take Ciudad."
A cheer of surprise and delight burst from all. There was an emptying of glasses, a pouring out of one more bumper to success, and in five minutes the court was deserted save by some orderlies hastily devouring the interrupted supper, and ere long the tramp of horses could be heard, as the Scudamores and their comrades dashed off in different directions with their despatches.
The next morning a bridge was thrown over the Agueda at Marialva, six miles below Ciudad, but the investment was delayed, owing to the slowness and insufficiency of the transport. Ciudad Rodrigo was but a third-class fortress, and could have been captured by the process of a regular siege with comparatively slight loss to the besiegers. Wellington knew, however, that he could not afford the time for a regular siege. Long before the approaches could have been made, and the breaches effected according to rule, the French marshals would have been up with overwhelming forces.
Beginning the investment on the 7th, Wellington determined that it must be taken at all costs in twenty-four days, the last day of the month being the very earliest date at which, according to his calculations, any considerable body of French could come up to its relief.
Ciudad lies on rising ground on the bank of the Agueda. The fortifications were fairly strong, and being protected by a very high glacis, it was difficult to effect a breach in them. The glacis is the smooth ground outside the ditch. In well-constructed works the walls of the fortification rise but very little above the ground beyond, from which they are separated by a broad and deep ditch. Thus the ground beyond the ditch, that is, the glacis, covers the walls from the shot of a besieger, and renders it extremely difficult to reach them. In the case of Ciudad, however, there were outside the place two elevated plateaux, called the great and small Teson: Guns placed on these could look down upon Ciudad, and could therefore easily breach the walls. These, then, were the spots from which Wellington determined to make the attack. The French, however, were aware of the importance of the position, and had erected on the higher Teson an inclosed and palisadoed redoubt, mounting two guns and a howitzer. A great difficulty attending the operation was that there were neither fuel nor shelter to be obtained on the right bank of the river, and the weather set in very cold, with frost and snow, at the beginning of the siege. Hence the troops had to be encamped on the left bank, and each division, as its turn came, to occupy the trenches for twenty-four hours, took cooked provisions with it, and waded across the Agueda.
On the 8th, Pack's division of Portuguese and the light division waded the river three miles above the fortress, and, making a circuit took up a place near the great Teson. There they remained quiet all day. The French seeing that the place was not yet entirely invested paid but little heed to them. At nightfall, however, Colonel Colborne, with two companies from each of the regiments of the light division, attacked the redoubt of San Francisco with such a sudden rush that it was carried with the loss of only twenty-four men, the defenders, few and unprepared, being all taken prisoners. Scarcely, however, was the place captured than every gun of Ciudad which could be brought to bear upon it opened with fury. All night, under a hail of shot and shell, the troops labored steadily, and by daybreak the first parallel, that is to say, a trench protected by a bank of earth six hundred yards in length was sunk three feet deep. The next day the first division, relieved the light division.
Tom and Peter, now that the army was stationary, had an easier time of it, and obtained leave to cross the river to see the operations. The troops had again to wade through the bitter cold water, and at any other time would have grumbled rarely at the discomfort. When they really engage in the work of war, however, the British soldier cares for nothing, and holding up their rifles, pouches and haversacks, to keep dry, the men crossed the river laughing and joking. There was but little done all day, for the fire of the enemy was too fast and deadly for men to work under it in daylight. At night the Scudamores left their horses with those of the divisional officers, and accompanied the troops into the trenches, to learn the work which had there to be done. Directly it was dusk twelve hundred men fell to work to construct their batteries. The night was dark, and it was strange to the Scudamores to hear the thud of so many picks and shovels going, to hear now and then a low spoken order, but to see nothing save when the flash of the enemy's guns momentarily lit up the scene. Every half minute or so the shot, shell, and grape came tearing through the air, followed occasionally by a low cry or a deep moan. Exciting as it was for a time, the boys having no duty, found it difficult long to keep awake, and presently dozed off—at first to wake with a start whenever a shell fell close, but presently to sleep soundly until dawn. By that time the batteries, eighteen feet thick, were completed.
On the 10th the fourth division, and on the 11th the third, carried on the works, but were nightly disturbed, not only by the heavy fire from the bastions, but from some guns which the French had mounted on the convent of San Francisco in the suburb on the left. Little was effected in the next two days, for the frost hardened the ground and impeded the work. On the night of the 13th the Santa Cruz convent was carried and the trenches pushed forward, and on the next afternoon the breaching batteries opened fire with twenty-five guns upon the points of the wall at which it had been determined to make the breaches, while two cannons kept down the fire of the French guns at the convent of San Francisco. The French replied with more than fifty pieces, and all night the tremendous fire was kept up on both sides without intermission. Just at daybreak the sound of musketry mingled with the roar of cannon, as the 40th Regiment attacked and carried the convent of San Francisco. Through the 16th, 17th, and 18th the artillery duel continued, some times one side, sometimes the other obtaining the advantage; but during each night the trenches of the besiegers were pushed forward, and each day saw the breaches in the ramparts grow larger and larger. On the 19th the breaches were reported as practicable—that is, that it would be possible for men to scramble up the fallen rubbish to the top, and orders were therefore given for the assault for that night.
The attack was to be made at four points simultaneously; the 5th, 94th, and 77th were to attack from the convent of Santa Cruz, to make for the ditch, enter it, and work their way along to the great breach; Mackinnon's brigade of the third division was to attack the great breach from the front; the light division posted behind the convent of San Francisco were to attack from the left, and make their way to the small breach; while a false attack, to be converted into a real one if the resistance was slight, was to be made by Pack's Portuguese at the St. Jago gate at the opposite side of the town. As night fell the troops moved into their position, and Lord Wellington went to the convent of San Francisco, from whose roof he could survey the operations. The Scudamores, with the rest of the staff, took up their places behind him. Suddenly there was a shout on the far right, followed by a sound of confused cheering and firing, while flashes of flame leapt out along the walls, and the guns of the place opened fire with a crash. Now the 5th, 94th, and 77th rushed with great swiftness along the ditch, when, at the foot of the great breach, they were met by the third division. Together they poured up the breach, and the roar of musketry was tremendous. Once at the top of the breach, however, they made no progress. From a trench which had been cut beyond it, a ring of fire broke out, while muskets flashed from every window in the houses near. It was evident that some serious obstacle had been encountered, and that the main attack was arrested.
"This is terrible," Peter said, as almost breathless they watched the storm of fire on and around the breach. "This is a thousand times worse than a battle. It is awful to think how the shot must be telling on that dense mass. Can nothing be done?"
"Hurrah! There go the light division at the small breach," Tom exclaimed, as the French fire broke out along the ramparts in that quarter. A violent cheer came up even above the din from the great breach, but no answering fire lights the scene, for Major Napier, who commanded, had forbidden his men to load, telling them to trust entirely to the bayonet. There was no delay here; the firing of the French ceased almost immediately, as with a fierce rush the men of the light division bounded up the ruins and won the top of the breach. For a moment or two there was a pause, for the French opened so fierce a fire from either side, that the troops wavered. The officers sprang to the front, the soldiers followed with the bayonet, and the French, unable to stand the fierce onslaught, broke and fled into the town. Then the men of the light division, rushing along the walls, took the French who were defending the great breach in rear, and as these gave way, the attacking party swept across the obstacles which, had hitherto kept them, and the town was won. Pack's Portuguese had effected an entrance at the St. Jago gate, which they found almost deserted, for the garrison was weak, and every available man had been taken for the defence of the breaches.
Thus was Ciudad Rodrigo taken after twelve days' siege, with a loss of twelve hundred men and ninety officers, of which six hundred and fifty men and sixty officers fell in that short, bloody fight at the breaches. Among the killed was General Craufurd, who had commanded at the fight on the Coa.
Upon entering the town three days afterwards, at the termination of the disgraceful scene of riot and pillage with which the British soldier, there as at other places, tarnished the laurels won by his bravery in battle, the boys went to the scene of the struggle, and then understood the cause of the delay upon the part of the stormers. From the top of the breach there was a perpendicular fall of sixteen feet, and the bottom of this was planted with sharp spikes, and strewn with the fragments of shells which the French had rolled down into it. Had it not been for the light division coming up, and taking the defenders—who occupied the loopholed and fortified houses which commanded this breach—in rear, the attack here could never have succeeded.
The next few days were employed in repairing the breaches, and putting the place again in a state of defence, as it was probable that Marmont might come up and besiege it. The French marshal, however, when hurrying to the relief of the town, heard the news of its fall, and as the weather was very bad for campaigning, and provisions short, he fall back again to his winter quarters, believing that Wellington would, content with his success, make no fresh movement until the spring. The English general, however, was far too able a strategist not to profit by the supineness of his adversary, and, immediately Ciudad Rodrigo was taken, he began to make preparations for the siege of Badajos, a far stronger fortress than Ciudad, and defended by strong detached forts. Three days after the fall of Rodrigo General Hill came up with his division; to this the Norfolk Rangers now belonged, and the Scudamores had therefore the delight of meeting all their old friends again. They saw but little of them, however, for they were constantly on the road to Lisbon with despatches, every branch of the service being now strained to get the battering-train destined for the attack on Badajos to the front, while orders were sent to Silviera, Trant, Wilson, Lecca, and the other partisan leaders, to hold all the fords and defiles along the frontier, so as to prevent the French from making a counter-invasion of Portugal.
On the 11th of March the army arrived at Elvas, and on the 15th a pontoon bridge was thrown across the Guadiana. The following day the British troops crossed the river, and invested Badajos, with fifteen thousand men, while Hill and Graham, with thirty thousand more moved forward, so as to act as a covering army, in case the French should advance to raise the siege. Badajos was defended by five thousand men, under General Phillipson, a most able and energetic commander, who had in every way strengthened the defences, and put them in a position to offer an obstinate resistance.
Before attacking the fortress it was necessary to capture one of the outlying forts, and that known as the Picurina was selected, because the bastion of the Trinidad, which lay behind it, was the weakest portion of the fortress. The trenches were commenced against this on the night of the 17th, and, although the French made some vigorous sorties, the works progressed so rapidly that all was ready for an assault on the forts on the 25th, a delay of two days having been occasioned by the French taking guns across the river, which swept the trenches, and rendered work impossible, until a division was sent round to drive in the French guns and invest the fortress on that side. The Picurina was strong, and desperately defended, but it was captured after a furious assault, which lasted one hour, and cost nineteen officers and three hundred men. It was not, however, until next evening that the fort could be occupied, for the guns of the town poured such a hail of shot and shell into it, that a permanent footing could not be obtained in it. Gradually, day by day, the trenches were driven nearer to the doomed city, and the cannon of the batteries worked day and night to establish a breach. Soult was known to be approaching, but he wanted to gather up all his available forces, as he believed the town capable of holding out for another month, at least. Still he was approaching, and, although the three breaches were scarcely yet practicable, and the fire of the town by no means overpowered, Wellington determined upon an instant assault, and on the night of the 6th of April the troops prepared for what turned out to be the most terrible and bloody assault in the annals of the British army. There were no less than six columns of attack, comprising in all eighteen thousand men. Picton, on the right with the third division was to cross the Rivillas and storm the castle. Wilson, with the troops in the trenches, was to attack San Roque. In the center the fourth and light division, under Colville and Barnard, were to assault the breaches; and on the left Leith, with the fifth division, was to make a false attack upon the fort of Pardaleras, and a real attack upon the bastion of San Vincente by the river side. Across the river the Portugese division, under Power, was to attack the works at the head of the bridge. The night was dark and clouded, and all was as still as death outside the town, when a lighted carcass, that is a large iron canister filled with tar and combustibles, fell close to the third division, and, exposing their ranks, forced them to commence the attack before the hour appointed. Crossing the Rivillas by a narrow bridge, under a tremendous fire, the third division assaulted the castle, and, although their scaling-ladders were over and over again hurled down, the stormers at last obtained a footing, and the rest of the troops poured in and the castle was won. A similar and more rapid success attended the assault on San Roque, which was attacked so suddenly and violently, that it was taken with scarce any resistance. In the mean time the assaults upon the breaches had commenced, and it is best to give the account of this terrible scene in the words of its eloquent and graphic historian, as the picture is one of the most vivid that was ever drawn.
"All this time the tumult at the breaches was such as if the very earth had been rent asunder, and its central fires bursting upwards uncontrolled. The two divisions had reached the glacis just as the firing at the castle commenced, and the flash of a single musket, discharged from the covered-way as a signal, showed them that the French were ready; yet no stir was heard and darkness covered the breaches. Some hay-packs were thrown, some ladders placed, and the forlorn hopes and storming parties of the light division, five hundred in all, descended into the ditch without opposition; but then a bright flame shooting upwards displayed all the terrors of the scene. The ramparts, crowded with dark figures and glittering arms were on one side, on the other the red columns of the British, deep and broad, were coming on like streams of burning lava. It was the touch of the magician's wand, for a crash of thunder followed, and with incredible violence the storming parties were dashed to pieces by the explosion of hundreds of shells and powder-barrels. For an instant the light division stood on the brink of the ditch, amazed at the terrific sight; but then, with a shout that matched even the sound of the explosion, the men flew down the ladders, or, disdaining their aid, leaped, reckless of the depth, into the gulf below—and at the same moment, amidst a blaze of musketry that dazzled the eyes, the fourth division came running in, and descended with a like fury. There were only five ladders for the two columns, which were close together; and a deep cut, made in the bottom of the ditch as far as the counter-guard of the Trinidad, was filled with water from the inundation. Into that watery snare the head of the fourth division fell, and it is said above a hundred of the fusiliers, the men of Albuera, were there smothered. Those who followed checked not, but, as if such a disaster had been expected, turned to the left, and thus came upon the face of the unfinished ravelin, which, being rough and broken, was mistaken for the breach, and instantly covered with men; yet a wide and deep chasm was still between them and the ramparts, from whence came a deadly fire, wasting their ranks. Thus baffled, they also commenced a rapid discharge of musketry and disorder ensued; for the men of the light division, whose conducting engineer had been disabled early and whose flank was confined by an unfinished ditch intended to cut off the bastion of Santa Maria, rushed towards the breaches of the curtain and the Trinidad, which were, indeed, before them, but which the fourth division had been destined to storm. Great was the confusion, for the ravelin was quite crowded with men of both divisions; and while some continued to fire, others jumped down and ran towards the breach; many also passed between the ravelin and the counterguard of the Trinidad, the two divisions got mixed, the reserves, which should have remained at the quarries, also came pouring in, until the ditch was quite filled, the rear still crowding forward, and all cheering vehemently. The enemy's shouts also were loud and terrible, and the bursting of shells, and of grenades, and the roaring of guns from the flanks, answered by the iron howitzers from the battery of the parallel, the heavy roll, and horrid explosion of the powder-barrels, the whizzing flight of the blazing splinters, the loud exhortations of the officers, and the continual clatter of the muskets, made a maddening din. Now a multitude bounded up the great breach, as if driven by a whirlwind, but across the top glittered a range of sword-blades, sharp-pointed, keen-edged on both sides, and firmly fixed in ponderous beams chained together, and set deep in the ruins; and for ten feet in front the ascent was covered with loose planks, studded with sharp iron points, on which, feet being set, the planks moved, and the unhappy soldiers, falling forward on the spikes, rolled down upon the ranks behind. Then the Frenchmen, shouting at the success of their stratagem, and, leaping forward, plied their shot with terrible rapidity, for every man had several muskets, and each musket, in addition to its ordinary charge, contained a small cylinder of wood, stuck full of wooden slugs, which scattered like hail when they were discharged. Once and again the assailants rushed up the breaches, but always the sword-blades, immovable and impassable, stopped their charge, and the hissing shells and thundering powder-barrels exploded unceasingly. Hundreds of men had fallen, hundreds more were dropping, still, the heroic officers called aloud for new trials, and sometimes followed by many, sometimes by a few, ascended the ruins; and so furious were the men themselves, that, in one of these charges, the rear strove to push the foremost on to the sword-blades, willing even to make a bridge of their writhing bodies, but the others frustrated the attempt by dropping down; and men fell so fast from the shot, it was hard to know who went down voluntarily, who were stricken and many stooped unhurt that never rose again. Vain also would it have been to break through the sword-blades, for the trench and parapet behind the breach were finished, and the assailants, crowded into even a narrower space than the ditch was, would still have been separated from their enemies, and the slaughter would have continued. At the beginning of this dreadful conflict Andrew Barnard had, with prodigious efforts, separated his division from the other, and preserved some degree of military array; but now the tumult was such, no command would be heard distinctly except by those close at hand, and the mutilated carcasses heaped on each other, and the wounded struggling to avoid being trampled upon, broke the formations; order was impossible! Officers of all ranks, followed more or less numerously by the men, were seen to start out as if struck by sudden madness, and rash into the breach, which, yawning and glittering with steel, seemed like the mouth of a huge dragon belching forth smoke and flame. In one of these attempts, Colonel Macleod, of the 43rd, a young man whose feeble body would have been quite unfit for war if it had not been sustained by an unconquerable spirit, was killed; wherever his voice was heard his soldiers had gathered, and with such a strong resolution did he lead them up the fatal ruins that, when one behind him, in falling, plunged a bayonet into his back, he complained, not; but, continuing his course, was shot dead within a yard of the sword-blades. Yet there was no want of gallant leaders, or desperate followers, until two hours passed in these vain efforts had convinced the troops the breach of the Trinidad was impregnable; and, as the opening in the curtain, although less strong, was retired, and the approach to it impeded by deep holes and cuts made in the ditch, the soldiers did not much notice it after the partial failure of one attack which had been made early. Gathering in dark groups, and leaning on their muskets, they looked up with sullen desperation at the Trinidad, while the enemy, stepping out on the ramparts, and aiming their shots by the light of the fire-balls which they threw over, asked, as their victims fell, 'Why they did not come into Badajos?' In this dreadful situation, while the dead were lying in heaps, and others continually falling, the wounded crawling about to get some shelter from the merciless shower above, and withal a sickening stench from the burnt flesh of the slain, Captain Nicholas, of the engineers, was observed by Lieutenant Shaw, of the 43rd, making incredible efforts to force his way with a few men into the Santa Maria Bastion. Shaw immediately collected fifty soldiers, of all regiments, and joined him, and although there was a deep cut along the foot of that breach also, it was instantly passed, and these two young officers led their gallant band, with a rush, up the ruins; but when they had gained two-thirds of the ascent, a concentrated fire of musketry and grape dashed nearly the whole dead to the earth. Nicholas was mortally wounded, and the intrepid Shaw stood alone! With inexpressible coolness he looked at his watch, and saying it was too late to carry the reaches, rejoined the masses at the other attack. After this no further effort was made at any point, and the troops remained passive but unflinching beneath the enemy's shot, which streamed without intermission; for, of the riflemen on the glacis many leaped early into the ditch and joined in the assault, and the rest, raked by a cross-fire of grape from the distant bastions, baffled in their aim by the smoke and flames from the explosions, and too few in number, entirely failed to quell the French musketry. About midnight, when two thousand brave men had fallen, Wellington, who was on a height close to the quarries, ordered the remainder to retire and re-form for a second assault; he had heard the castle was taken, but thinking the enemy would still resist in the town, was resolved to assail the breaches again. This retreat from the ditch was not effected without further carnage and confusion. The French fire never slackened. A cry arose that the enemy was making a sally from the distant flanks, and there was a rush towards the ladders. Then the groans and lamentations of the wounded, who could not move and expected to be slain, increased, and many officers who had not heard of the order, endeavored to stop the soldiers from going back; some would even have removed the ladders but were unable to break the crowd."
While this terrible scene was passing, the victory had been decided elsewhere. The capture of the castle by Picton would, in itself, have caused the fall of the town upon the following day, but Leith, with the fifth division, after hard fighting, scaled the St. Vincente bastion, and came up through the town and took the defenders of the breaches in the rear. Then the French gave way, the British poured in, and the dreadful scenes which had marked the fall of Ciudad Rodrigo were repeated, and even surpassed. Up to the present day the name of an Englishman is coupled with a curse in the town of Badajos. At this siege, as at the last, the Scudamores acted the part of lookers on, and although they bitterly regretted it, it was well for them that it was so. The capture of Badajos cost the allied army five thousand men, of whom three thousand five hundred fell on the night of the assault. Each of the divisions which attacked the breaches lost over twelve hundred men, and the 52nd Regiment, who formed part of the light division, lost their full share. Among the ranks of the officers the slaughter was particularly great, and scarce one escaped without a wound. The Scudamores would fain have volunteered to join their regiment in the assault, but it was well known that Lord Wellington would not allow staff officers to go outside their own work. Therefore they had looked on with beating hearts and pale faces, and with tears in their eyes, at that terrible fight at the Triudad, and had determined that when morning came they would resign their staff appointments and ask leave to join their regiment. But when morning came, and the list of the killed and wounded was sent in, and they went down with a party to the breach to collect the wounded, they could not but feel that they had in all probability escaped death, or what a soldier fears more, mutilation. "After all, Tom," Peter said, "we have done some active service, and our promotion shows that we are not cowards; there can be no reason why we should not do our duty as the chief has marked it out for us, especially when it is quite as likely to lead to rapid promotion as is such a murderous business as this." After this no more was said about resigning the staff appointment, which gave them plenty of hard work, and constant change of scene, whereas had they remained with the regiment they would often have been stationed for months in one place without a move.
The great triumphs of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajos did not lead to the rapid successes which Wellington had hoped. The French generals, on hearing of the loss of the latter fortress, again fell back, and Wellington was so much hampered by shortness of money, by the inefficiency, obstinacy, and intrigues of the Portuguese Government, and by want of transport, that it was nearly three months before he could get everything in readiness for an advance into Spain. At last all was prepared, and on the 13th of June the army once more crossed the Agueda and marched towards the Tamar in four columns. On the 17th it was within six miles of Salamanca, and Marshal Marmont, unable for the moment to stem the tide of invasion, evacuated the city, which that evening blazed with illuminations, the people being half wild with joy at their approaching deliverance. The French, however, had not entirely departed, for eight hundred men still held some very strong forts overlooking and guarding the city.
These forts held out desperately; the British battering train was weak, and upon the 23d Marmont, having received considerable reinforcements, advanced to raise the siege. Wellington, however, refused to be tempted to leave his trenches to deliver a general battle, but faced the enemy with a portion of his army while he continued the siege.
Marmont, upon his part, believing that the forts could hold out for fifteen days, put off the attack, as he knew that large reinforcements were coming up. His calculations were frustrated by one of the forts taking fire on the 27th, when an assault was delivered, and the whole of the forts surrendered; Marmont at once fell back across the Douro, there to await the arrival of his reinforcements.
Wellington, on his part, followed slowly, and his army took up a position between Canizal and Castrejon, thereby covering the roads from Toro and Tordesillas, the only points at which the French could cross the river. The reports of the spies all agreed that the former was the place at which the crossing would be made.
On the 16th of July an officer rode into Canizal, at headlong pace, with the news that a reconnoitering party had crossed the Douro that morning near Tordesillas, and had found that place deserted, except by a garrison; and an hour later the news came in that three divisions of the enemy were already across the river at Toro. Five minutes later the Scudamores were on horseback, carrying orders that the whole of the army, with the exception of the fourth and light divisions, which were on the Trabancos, under General Cotton, were to concentrate at Canizal that night. By the morning the movement was accomplished.
The day wore on in somewhat anxious expectation, and towards afternoon Wellington, accompanied by Lord Beresford, and escorted by Alten's, Bock's and Le Marchant's brigades of cavalry, started to make a reconnaissance of the enemy's movements. Caution was needed for the advance, as it was quite uncertain whether the French were pushing on through the open country towards Canizal, or whether they were following the direct road from Toro to Salamanca. Evening closed in, but no signs of the French army were seen, and the party halted about six miles from Toro, and small parties of cavalry were despatched right and left to scour the country, and find out where the enemy had gone.
"It's very strange where the French can have got to," was the remark made, for the fiftieth time among the staff.
The detached parties returned, bringing no news whatever, and Lord Wellington again advanced slowly and cautiously towards Toro. Small parties were pushed on ahead, and presently an officer rode back with the news that he had been as far as the river, and that not a Frenchman was to be seen. It was too late to do any more, and they remained in uncertainty whether the enemy had recrossed the river after making a demonstration, or whether they had marched to their right, so as to make a circuit, and throw themselves between Ciudad Rodrigo and Salamanca, upon the line of communication of the British army.
Lord Wellington, with his staff, took possession of a deserted farm-house, the cavalry picketed their horses round it, and the Scudamores, who had been more than twenty-four hours in the saddle, wrapped themselves in their cloaks, and stretching themselves on the floor, were soon asleep. Just at midnight the sound of a horse's footfall approaching at a gallop was heard, and an officer, who had ridden, without drawing rein, from Canizal, dashed up to the farm.
Five minutes later the whole party were in the saddle again. The news was important, indeed. Marmont had drawn his whole army back across the Toro on the night of the 16th, had marched to Tordesillas, crossed there, and in the afternoon, after a march of fifty miles, had fallen upon Cotton's outposts, and driven them across the Trabancos.
Not a moment's time was lost by Wellington after he received the news; but, unfortunately, six precious hours had already been wasted, owing to the despatches not having reached him at Canizal. With the three brigades of cavalry he set off at once towards Alaejos, while an officer was despatched to Canizal, to order the fifth division to march with all speed to Torrecilla de la Orden, six miles in the rear of Cotton's position at Castrejon.
Four hours' riding brought them to Alaejos, where a halt for two or three hours was ordered, to rest the weary horses and men. Soon after daybreak, however, all thought of sleep was banished by the roar of artillery, which told that Marmont was pressing hard upon Cotton's troops. "To horse!" was the cry, and Lords Wellington and Beresford, with their staff, rode off at full speed towards the scene of action, with the cavalry following hard upon their heels. An hour's ride brought them to the ground. Not much could be seen, for the country was undulating and bare, like the Brighton Downs, and each depression was full of the white morning mist, which wreathed and tossed fantastically from the effects of the discharges of firearms, the movements of masses of men, and the charges of cavalry hidden within it. Upon a crest near at hand were a couple of British guns, with a small escort of horse.
Suddenly, from the mist below, a party of some fifty French horsemen dashed out and made for the guns. The supporting squadron, surprised by the suddenness of the attack, broke and fled; the French followed hard upon them, and just as Lord Wellington, with his staff, gained the crest, pursuers and pursued came upon them, and in pell-mell confusion the whole were borne down to the bottom of the hill. For a few minutes it was a wild melee. Lords Wellington, Beresford, and their staff, with their swords drawn, were in the midst of the fight, and friends and foes were mingled together, when the leading squadrons of the cavalry from Alaejos came thundering down, and very few of the Frenchmen who had made that gallant charge escaped to tell the tale.
The mists were now rapidly clearing up, and in a short time the whole French army could be seen advancing. They moved towards the British left, and Wellington ordered the troops at once to retire. The British fell back in three columns, and marched for the Guarena, through Torrecilla de la Orden. The French also marched straight for the river, and now one of the most singular sights ever presented in warfare was to be seen.
The hostile armies were marching abreast, the columns being but a few hundred yards apart, the officers on either side waving their hands to each other. For ten miles the armies thus pressed forward the officers urging the men, and these straining every nerve to get first to the river. From time to time the artillery of either side, finding a convenient elevation, would pour a few volleys of grape into the opposing columns, but the position of the two armies, did not often admit of this. Gradually Cotton's men, fresher than the French, who had, in the two previous days, marched fifty miles, gained ground, and, reaching the river, marched across by the ford, the winners of the great race by so little that one division, which halted for a moment to drink, was swept by forty pieces of French artillery, which arrived on the spot almost simultaneously with it.
On the Guarena the British found the remaining divisions of the army, which had been brought up from Canizal. These checked Marmont in an attempt to cross at Vallesa, while the 29th and 40th Regiments, with a desperate bayonet charge, drove Carier's French division back as it attempted to push forward beyond Castrillo. Thus the two armies faced each other on the Guarena, and Marmont had gained absolutely nothing by his false movement at Toro, and his long and skillful detour by Tordesillas.
Quickly the rest of the day passed, as did the one which followed, the troops on both sides resting after their fatigues. Wellington expected to be attacked on the next morning and his army was arranged in two lines ready for the combat. At daybreak, however, Marmont moved his army up the river, crossed at a ford there, and marched straight for Salamanca, thus turning Wellington's right, and threatening his communications. The British at once fell back, and the scene of the previous day was repeated the armies marching along the crest of two parallel hills within musket shot distance of each other.
This time however, the French troops, although they had marched considerably farther than the English proved themselves the best marchers, and when night fell Wellington had the mortification of seeing them in possession of the ford of Huerta on the Tormes, thus securing for Marmont the junction with an army which was approaching under King Joseph, and also the option of either fighting or refusing battle. Wellington felt his position seriously threatened, and sent off a despatch to the Spanish General Castanos, stating his inability to hold his ground, and the probability that he should be obliged to fall back upon Portugal. This letter proved the cause of the victory of Salamanca for it was intercepted by the French, and Marmont, fearing that Wellington would escape him, prepared at once to throw himself upon the road to Ciudad Rodrigo, and thus cut the British line of retreat, in spite of the positive order which he had received from King Joseph not to fight until he himself arrived with his army.