Upon the 21st both armies crossed the Tormes, the French at Alba and Huerta, the British at Aldea Lengua, and San Marta. Upon that day the news reached Wellington that General Chauvel, with 2000 cavalry, and 20 guns, would reach Marmont on the evening of the 22d, or the morning of the 23d, and the English general therefore resolved to retreat, unless Marmont should, by some mistake, give him a chance of fighting to advantage.
Close to the British right, and the French left, were two steep and rugged hills, called the Hermanitos, or Brothers, and soon after daybreak on the 22d, the French seized upon the one nearest to them, while the British took possession of the other. Then, watching each other, the two armies remained until noon, for Wellington could not commence his retreat by daylight; but a long cloud of dust along the road to Ciudad Rodrigo showed that the baggage of the army was already en route for Portugal. Marmont now determined to make a bold stroke to cut off Wellington's retreat, and, although all his troops had not yet arrived, he ordered Maucune, with two divisions, to march round by the left and menace the Ciudad road. It was at three o'clock in the afternoon, and Wellington, who had been up all night, thinking that Marmont would make no move that day, had gone to lie down for an hour or two, when Tom Scudamore who, from an elevated point, was watching the movements of the enemy, hurried in with the news that the French were pushing their left round towards the Ciudad Road.
Wellington leaped to his feet, and hurried to the high ground, where he beheld, with stern satisfaction, that Marmont, in his eagerness to prevent the British escape, had committed the flagrant error of detaching his wing from his main body. Instantly he issued orders for an attack, and the great mass of men upon the British Hermanito moved down upon the plain to attack Maucune in flank, while the third division was ordered to throw itself across his line of march, and to attack him in front. As the advance across the plain would be taken in flank by the fire from the French Hermanito, General Pack was ordered to assail that position directly the British line had passed it.
Marmont, standing on the French Hermanito, was thunder-struck at beholding the plain suddenly covered with enemies, and a tremendous fire was at once opened upon the advancing British. Officer after officer was despatched to hurry up the French troops still upon the march, and when Marmont saw the third division dash across Maucune's path, he was upon the point of hurrying himself to the spot, when a shell burst close to him, and he was dashed to the earth with a broken arm, and two deep wounds in his side.
Thus, at the critical point of the battle, the French army was left without a head.
It was just five o'clock when Pakenham, with the third division, fell like a thunderbolt upon the head of Maucune's troops. These, taken by surprise by this attack, on the part of an enemy whom they had thought to see in full flight, yet fought gallantly, and strove to gain time to open out into order of battle. Bearing onwards, however, with irresistible force, the third division broke the head of the column, and drove it back upon its supports. Meanwhile, the battle raged all along the line; in the plain the fourth division carried the village of Arapiles, and drove back Bonnet's division with the bayonet, and the fifth division attacked Maucune's command in flank, while Pakenham was destroying its front.
Marmont was succeeded in his command by Bonnet, who was also wounded, and Clausel, an able general, took the command. He reinforced Maucune with his own divisions, which had just arrived, and, for a while, restored the battle. Then, past the right and left of Pakenham's division, the British cavalry, under Le Marchant, Anson, and D'Urban, burst through the smoke and dust, rode down twelve hundred of the French infantry, and then dashed on at the line behind. Nobly the charge was pressed, the third division following at a run, and the charge ceased not until the French left was entirely broken and five guns, and two thousand prisoners taken.
But forty minutes had passed since the first gun was fired, and the French defeat was already all but irretrievable, and the third, fourth, and fifth divisions now in line, swept forward as to assured victory. Clausel, however, proved equal to the emergency. He reinforced Bonnet's division with that of Fereij, as yet fresh and unbroken, and, at the same moment, Sarrut's and Brennier's divisions issued from the forest, and formed in the line of battle. Behind them the broken troops of Maucune's two divisions re-formed, and the battle was renewed with terrible force.
Pack, at the same moment, attempted unsuccessfully to carry the French Hermanito by assault with his Portuguese division, and the fate of the battle was again in the balance; the British divisions outnumbered, and outflanked, began to fall back, Generals Cole, Leith, and Spry, were all wounded, and the French cavalry threatened the flank of the line. Wellington, however, had still plenty of reserves in hand, and at this critical moment he launched them at the enemy. The sixth division was brought up from the second line, and hurled at the center of the enemy in a fierce and prolonged charge, while the light and first divisions were directed against the French divisions which were descending from the French Hermanito, and against that of Foy, while the seventh division and the Spaniards were brought up behind the first line. Against so tremendous an assault as this the French could make no stand, and were pushed back in ever increasing disorder to the edge of the forest, where Foy's and Maucune's divisions stood at bay, and covered their retreat in the fast gathering darkness.
Wellington believed that he should capture a great portion of the beaten army, for he relied upon the Castle of Alba de Formes, commanding the ford at that place, being held by the Spaniards, but these had evacuated the place on the preceding day, and had not even informed Wellington that they had done so.
Thus, hidden by the night, the French retreated with but slight loss from the pursuing columns. In the battle the French had forty-two thousand men and seventy-four guns; the Allies forty-six thousand and sixty guns, but of the infantry a division were composed of Spaniards, and these could not be relied upon in any way. It was probably the most rapidly fought action ever known, and a French officer described it as the defeat of forty thousand men in forty minutes. The French loss was over twelve thousand in killed, wounded, and prisoners, and so completely were they dispersed that Clausel a week afterwards could only collect twenty thousand to their standards. It was a great victory, and celebrated as the first which Wellington had gained over the French, for although at Talavera and Busaco he had repulsed the French attack, he was not in either case in a position to do more than hold his ground.
Throughout this short and desperate fight the Scudamores had been fully engaged in conveying orders from one part of the field to another. Shot and shell flew around them in all directions, and yet when they met at the end of the action they found that they had escaped without a scratch. The day following the battle the pursuit began. Had King Joseph's advancing army united with Clausel's broken troops, he could have opposed Wellington's advance with a force far superior in numbers to that defeated at Salamanca. But Joseph, after hesitating, fell back in one direction, Clausel retreated in another, the opportunity for concentration was lost, and Wellington found no foe to bar his way on his triumphant march upon Madrid.
Joseph fell back from the capital as the English approached, leaving some thousands of men in the strong place known as the Retiro, together with an immense amount of arms, ammunition, and military stores of all kinds, all of which, including the troops, fell into the hands of the English within a few days of their arrival at Madrid.
It was a proud moment for the Scudamores, as riding behind Lord Wellington they entered Madrid on the 14th August.
The city was half mad with joy. Crowds lined the streets, while every window and balcony along the route was filled with ladies, who waved their scarves, clapped their hands, and showered flowers upon the heads of their deliverers. Those below, haggard and half-starved, for the distress in Madrid was intense, thronged round the general's horse, a shouting, weeping throng, kissing his cloak, his horse, any portion of his equipments which they could touch. Altogether it was one of the most glorious, most moving, most enthusiastic welcomes ever offered to a general.
The next fortnight was spent in a round of fetes, bull fights, and balls, succeeding each other rapidly, but these rejoicings were but a thin veil over the distress which was general throughout the town. The people were starving, and many deaths occurred daily from hunger. The British could do but little to relieve the suffering which they saw around them, for they themselves were—owing to the utter breakdown of all the arrangements undertaken by the Portuguese government, and to the indecision and incapacity of the Home Government—badly fed, and much in arrears of their pay. Nevertheless, the officers did what they could, got up soup kitchens, and fed daily many hundreds of starving wretches.
The heat was excessive and a very great deal of illness took place among the troops. The French were gathering strength in the South, and Wellington determined upon marching north and seizing Burgos, an important place, but poorly fortified. Leaving General Hill with two divisions at Madrid, he marched with the rest of the army upon Burgos.
CAUGHT IN A TRAP.
So much had passed between the first visit of the Scudamores to Madrid as Spanish peasant boys, and their second entry as captains upon Lord Wellington's staff, that they had scarcely given a thought to the dangers they had at that time run, or to the deadly hatred with which they had inspired the guerilla chief Nunez. When they first rode into the town, indeed, they had spoken of it one to the other, and had agreed that it would be pleasant to be able to walk through the streets without fear of assassination; for even, as Tom said, if the scoundrel had any of his band there, they would not be likely to recognize them in their uniforms.
One evening, however, when they had been in Madrid about a fortnight, an incident happened which caused them to doubt whether their security from the hatred of the guerilla was as complete as they had fancied. They were sitting with a number of other officers in a large cafe in the Puerta del Sol, the principal square in Madrid, when a girl came round begging; instead of holding out her hand silently with a murmur for charity in the name of the holy Virgin, she began a long story, poured out in rapid language.
Several of the officers present knew more or less Spanish, but they were unable to follow her quick utterances, and one of them said laughingly, "Scudamore, this is a case for you, she is beyond us altogether."
The girl followed the direction of the speaker's eye, and moved across to the brothers, who happened to be sitting next to each other, and began her story again. It was a complicated tale of French oppression, and the boys, interrupting her here and there to ask for details, talked with her for some minutes.
"I believe she is lying," Tom said, in English, "she tells her story as if she had learned it by heart, and gets confused whenever we cross-question her; there, give her a few coppers, I am out of change."
As Peter put his hand into his pocket for the money, Tom glanced up sharply at the girl. She was not, as might have been expected, watching Peter's movements with interest, but was looking inquiringly at some one in the crowd of promenaders. Tom followed her glance, and saw a peasant, standing half-hidden behind a group of passers, nod to her, and motion her to come to him. She waited until Peter put the coins into her hand; then, with a brief word of thanks, she moved away into the crowd.
"Peter, I believe those scoundrels are up to their old game, and that we are watched. Once or twice since we have been sitting here I have noticed a heavy-looking fellow glance at us very closely as he passed, and I just saw the same fellow, who was evidently hiding from observation, nod to that girl, and beckon her away."
"Her story was a lie from beginning to end," Peter said, "and it is quite possible that it was a got-up thing, on purpose to see whether we could talk Spanish well. I don't think any one could swear to us who only saw us then; but the fact of our speaking Spanish so well would go a long way towards settling the point in the mind of any one who suspected us!"
"We must be careful in future, Peter, and avoid quiet streets after dark, and keep a sharp look-out at all times, or we shall get a knife between our ribs, as sure as fate."
Time, however, passed on without anything occurring to give any support to their suspicion, they could not discover that they were being watched, or their footsteps dogged. They, nevertheless, continued to be, to a certain extent, upon their guard after dark; in the daytime the number of English soldiers about the streets was so large that there was very little danger of any attack.
On the evening before the army marched for Burgos, Tom, whose turn it was for duty at head-quarters, received a despatch, to carry to one of the generals of division encamped a mile or two out of the town. He did not need to go round to his quarters, as his horse was standing saddled in readiness in the courtyard. He was but an hour away, and, as he knew that he would not be farther required, he rode round to the house where he was quartered. His orderly came forward at his shout, and took his horse, and he mounted the broad stairs of the house, which was a very handsome one, and rang at the door on the second floor; for in Spain, as indeed almost all over the Continent, each floor is a separate dwelling.
Sam opened it.
"Nothing new, Sam?"
"No, sar, nothing new."
Tom passed through the sitting-room, and entered Peter's bedroom. It was in darkness.
"Asleep, old man?" he asked.
There was no answer. He came back into the sitting room, where two lamps were burning, and looked at his watch. "Half-past eleven. He is off to bed early. Sam, bring me some supper if you have got anything, I am hungry."
Sam came in, in a minute, with a small tray.
"How long has my brother been gone to bed?"
"Me did not know he gone to bed at all," Sam said, in surprise. "Me thought Massa Peter been reading book."
Tom took up a light, and went into the bedroom, it was empty. "Sam, there's something wrong here!" Tom said sharply, for a sudden sensation of alarm seized him. "Peter is not here."
Sam came into the bedroom, and looked round in astonishment. "What become of him?" he said. "Where de debil he got to?"
"That's what I want to know, Sam. Now, then, just give all your attention. What time did he come in?"
"He came in at about nine o'clock, sar, with three other officers, Captain Farquharson, Major Heriot, and Captain Brown. Dey have bottle wine, and sit here and smoke. Well, Massa Tom, Sam sit in his room, and smoke him pipe, and he doze off a little; after a bit, may be ten o'clock, Sam hear dem move, and go to door; they were saying good-night, when Massa Peter said, 'I will just go down to see that the horses are all right.' Den dey all go down togeder."
"Did they shut the door?" Tom asked.
"No, Massa Tom, dey did not shut de door, because, a little while after, Sam, he wake up wid little start; he hear de door bang, and 'spose Massa Peter come back. Sam go off to sleep again till you ring bell."
Tom looked very grave. "What can Peter have gone off with Farquharson at this time of night for?"
Then he looked round the room, and said, almost with a cry, "Sam, look there, there are his cap and sword. He has not gone out with the others at all. What can have happened?"
Tom first glanced into his own room, and then ran downstairs in haste, followed by Sam, who was now also thoroughly alarmed. The orderly had just made the horse comfortable for the night, and was leaving the stable.
"Johnstone, when did you see my brother?"
"Well, it may be an hour, or an hour and a half back, sir. He came down with some other officers; I did not see them, but I heard them talking for a minute or two before he came in to look at the horses, and he asked if they were all right, and said they must be saddled by half-past five, and then he went up again—at least, I suppose he went up, for he had not got his cap on. Is anything wrong, sir?"
"I don't know, I am afraid to think," Tom said, in a dazed way. "He is not upstairs; he has not gone out; what can have become of him?"
He stood quiet for a minute or two, and then, with a great effort, brought his thoughts within control again. "The first thing is to assure ourselves whether he returned upstairs. Sam, fetch a lamp, the stairs are not lighted, and I want to examine them."
Sam soon returned with the lamp, and Tom, beginning at the street door, examined every step carefully all the way up, Sam and the soldier following him.
"There has been no scuffle on the stairs," he said; then he went through the little hall into the sitting-room again. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed. Then he looked at the floor, which was of polished oak, and knelt down to examine it more closely. "There have been men with dirty shoes standing here," he cried. "Do you see the marks on each side of the door, and there, do you see that scratch and that? There has been a scuffle. Good heavens! what has taken place here?"
Sam's face was pale with apprehension that something had happened to Peter; but, he said, "How dat be, Massa Tom, with Sam in the next room all the time?"
Tom made no reply; but was closely examining the floor—back across the hall. "There is a mark; there is another," he said, "not made by boots, but by their native sandals." Then he went out from the door, and up the next flight of stairs.
"There," he said, "just as I thought." Just round the angle of the stairs two steps were dirty and stained, as if dirty feet had been trampling upon them for some time. "I suppose they knew I was out, and watched here, for hours, perhaps. Then, when Peter went down, they slipped in through the open door, and then"—without completing the sentence, Tom went back into the room, and threw himself into a chair in tearless despair.
Sam sobbed loudly. For some time there was silence. "There is no blood, sir, that I can see, not a speck," the orderly said. "They can't have killed Captain Scudamore, and, if they had, why should they have carried his body away?"
This was the question Tom had been asking himself. Assassinations were, in Madrid, every-day occurrences, and that Peter and he were especially liable to be murdered, owing to the hatred of Nunez and his gang, was clear; but, so far as he could see, not a drop of blood had been shed here. Presently Sam began to sob more loudly. "Dis break my heart, Massa Tom, to tink dat Sam be next door all de time, and, instead of watching, he sleep so sound dat Massa Peter carried straight away."
"You are not to blame, Sam, there was, probably, no noise whatever. But, what can it all mean? Johnstone, you had better go to bed, you can do no good now. Sam, give me my pistols; take that big stick of yours, and come round with me to head-quarters, we will call in at Captain Farquharson's on the way."
That officer, on being roused, and made to understand what was the matter, confirmed the account given by the orderly; he and his companions had parted at the street door, and Peter had gone down the yard to the stable.
"It is clear that Peter has been carried off," Tom said, "and I have not the least doubt that it has been done by some of the band of Nunez. As you have heard me say, they owe us a grudge, and have, no doubt, been on the look-out ever since we came here. We have been on guard, and never gave them a chance, and, I suppose, they got desperate when they found the army was moving again, and so carried out this audacious plan."
"If your brother had been found murdered I should understand it," Captain Farquharson said; "but, what on earth did they carry him off for?"
Tom was silent for a minute.
"That fiend, Nunez, would have had us stabbed if he could do nothing else; but he would, if I judge him rightly, be really contented with nothing short of putting us to death himself in some horrible manner. My own idea is, that Peter is hidden away somewhere near, will be kept in concealment until the road is clear, and will then be taken to Nunez. I must go off and try and save him at all hazards."
Captain Farquharson was silent, while Tom walked up and down the room thoughtfully.
"I don't suppose the chief would refuse me leave," Tom said. "If he does, I must throw up my commission."
"No, no; you are sure to get leave for such a thing as this, but the difficulty of the affair will be to know how to proceed. The country will swarm with French, the guerillas are sure to keep a sharp look-out, and if you find him, how are you going to rescue him?"
"I don't know," Tom said, "but it's got to be done; that's clear. I can't set out as a Spanish peasant," he went on after a pause. "They know me as that now. At least, if I do I must get up as an old man and change my appearance. I might go as a woman, but I am too tall in the first place, and then women don't go wandering over the country in such times as this. But there, I have time to think it over before morning. I suppose the general will be moving about five o'clock; I will see him the first thing, and tell him the whole story. Good-night."
And so Tom went back to his quarters, and sat thinking deeply until morning, while Sam sat gloomily in his little room, sometimes with tears rolling down his cheeks, sometimes muttering terrible threats against the guerillas, at other times cursing himself for having been asleep instead of watching over his young master's safety. Tom had briefly told him that he intended to get leave in order to search for Peter. At daybreak, when he heard Tom moving, he went into the sitting-room.
"Look here, Massa Tom, Sam only one word to say. He going to look for Massa Peter. Sam know dat him color berry spicuous, dat people look at him and tink he de debil. Sam don't spect he going wid you. Dat wouldn't do. Dese fellows watch him, know dat black fellow here. Only Sam go somehow. He trabel night, hide up at day time. He join you de last ting when you go to mash up dem guerillas like squash. Anyhow, Sam must go. If can get leave, berry well, if not he desert. Anyhow he go, dat sartin. Sam kill himself if he stay behind."
Tom had already thought over this. He was sure that the faithful negro would not remain behind, but he had seen that his companionship would be fatal. He had, therefore, formed some plan in his head similar to that which Sam proposed, and he knew that when the moment for action came his courage, strength, and devotion would be invaluable.
"You shall go, Sam," he said, holding out his hand to his attached follower. "As you say, you can't go with me, but you shall go somehow."
"Thank you, Massa Tom," the negro said gratefully, "You berry sure if Massa Peter die Sam die too."
Tom now went to head-quarters, and found that Lord Wellington was just up. Sending in to say that he wished to speak with him for a few minutes on a matter of urgent personal importance, he was admitted, and related as concisely as he could Peter's disappearance, and told the story of the affair with the guerillas, which accounted for the intense desire for vengeance on the part of Nunez. He ended by asking for leave of absence.
The general heard him to the end, asking a brief question here and there.
"You can have the leave certainly, Captain Scudamore, I know that it is needless for me to point out the risks that you will run, both from the French and guerillas. I think that it might be an advantage if I give you a note which you can, in case of absolute necessity, show to any French officer."
So saying, the general sat down and wrote as follows:—
"To the French officer commanding.—The Earl of Wellington, commander-in-chief of His Britannic Majesty's forces in Spain, gives his assurance that the bearer of this, Captain Scudamore, although not in English uniform, is not engaged upon any mission connected with the army, or to obtain information respecting the strength and position of the French forces. His business is entirely private, and he is engaged in an attempt to discover and rescue a brother who has been carried off by the guerilla chief Nunez in order to gratify private vengeance. The Earl of Wellington, confiding in the natural courtesy of the French nation, trusts that officers of that service will, if applied to, assist Captain Scudamore in any way in their power, and he will feel personally obliged to them by their so doing."
Tom expressed his deep gratitude for this, which might, he foresaw, be of inestimable advantage to him.
"I am taking my servant with me, sir—the negro; he will not travel with me by day, but will join me wherever I tell him; he is very strong and brave, and is deeply attached to us."
"Yes, I remember," the general said; "that is the man whose life you saved. Do you leave at once?"
"No, sir; I am thinking of riding with you to-morrow at any rate. The route lies on the way I have to go, and I am sure to be watched here."
"Very well," the general said; "I wish you good fortune; but you have a difficult, almost a desperate, service before you."
Upon leaving head-quarters, Tom again called on Captain Farquharson.
"Farquharson, I hear that it will be eleven before the chief leaves. I wish you would go to that little shop opposite the opera-house; they have got wigs and all that sort of thing there. Please get me two old men's wigs and beards, and one set of those mutton-chop shaped whiskers, and a woman's wig. I haven't made up my mind yet what I am going to wear, but I want these things to choose from. I am sure to be watched, and if I were to go there they would find out, five minutes afterwards, what I had bought. In the meantime I am going to the head of the police to give notice of Peter's disappearance, and to ask him to have the carts leaving the town for the next few days searched. I have no doubt the fellows will outwit the police, but it's no use throwing away a chance."
It was six days after this that an old man, with long white hair and gray beard, and with a box containing cheap trinkets, beads, necklaces, earrings, knives, scissors, and other like articles, was sitting at the junction of two roads near the lower slopes of the Pyrenees, some twenty miles north of Vittoria. He had one of his sandals off, and appeared to have just risen from a bed of leaves in the forest behind him. The dawn had broken, but it was still twilight. Presently he heard a footstep coming along the road, and at once applied himself to wrapping the bandages, which serve for stockings to the Spanish peasant, round his leg, looking eagerly from under his wide sombrero to see who was approaching. As the new-comer came in sight, the pedlar at once ceased his employment and rose to meet him. He had recognized the figure, but the face was hidden, the Spanish cloak, worn as is usual by peasant and noble alike, with one end thrown over the shoulder, hiding the chin and lower part of the face, while the wide felt hat, pressed well down in front, allowed scarcely a glimpse even of the nose. That, however, would have been sufficient in the present case, for the man was a negro.
Upon seeing the pedlar rise, he ran forward to meet him.
"Ah, Massa Tom, tank de Lord me find you safe and sound. I always keep on tinking you taken prisoner or killed eider by de French or de robbers—one as bad as de oder."
"I have thought the same of you, Sam, for your risk has been far greater than mine. Well, thank God, it is all right thus far. But come back into the wood, I have got some food there, and here any one might come along."
They were soon deep in the wood, where, by a pile of grass and leaves which had evidently been used as a bed, was an open wallet, with some bread, cheese, cold meat and a small skin of wine.
"Are you hungry, Sam?"
"Downright starving, sar; dis chile eat noting for two days."
"Why, how is that, Sam; you had six days' provision with you when you started?"
"Dat true enough, sar, but Sam's appetite bigger than usual, noting to do all day sitting in de woods, waiting for night to come so as to go on again; so had to eat, and de food all went before Sam thought dat dere was two more days before he meet you."
"Well, sit down now, Sam, and eat away; we have plenty of time."
They had much to tell each other. They had traveled by the same road, one by night, the other by day—Sam passing the days sleeping in the woods, his master traveling by day and at night sleeping in wretched village posadas. He, too, would far rather have slept in the woods, for the insects and filth made sleep almost impossible in these places, besides which he ran a good deal of risk as to the discovery of his disguise. He had, however, chosen the inns in hopes of hearing something which might give him a clue as to the object of his search. The only information, which he had gained was to the effect that Nunez still had his quarters at the old place. He had been driven out of it, and the village had been burned by the French, but the position was a convenient one, and the houses had been cleared and roughly roofed with boughs of trees and straw, and the band was still there. This much was satisfactory, and he could hardly have expected to learn more, unless he had happened to meet some of the members of the band itself. They had not traveled by the main road, as upon that large forces of the French were collected; and even if Tom could have passed through, boldly, Sam could not have made his way. Even by the road they had chosen Tom had met several bodies of French, while at Vittoria a very large force was assembling, destined for the relief of Burgos.
Sam had but few incidents to relate. He had been carefully instructed by Tom before starting as to the road he should take, and the position and distances apart of the towns and villages upon it. He had traveled only at night, and had but once or twice exchanged a word with passers by. People did not travel much at night in so disturbed a country, and when Sam heard a foot-passenger approaching, or, as was more frequently the case, a party of French cavalry, he left the road and lay down, until they had passed. The one or two foot-passengers he had met suddenly he had passed with the usual Spanish muttered salutation, and the darkness and the disguise prevented any recognition of his color.
"Now, sar," Sam said, when they had finished breakfast, "what am to be done next?"
"I do not think, Sam, that the party who have got Peter have arrived yet. They could only have started on the day that we did; they have as long a road to go, and most likely they have got a bullock-cart, which won't travel more than fifteen miles a day at the outside. They have got Peter in a cart covered up with something, we may be sure. I don't think they will be here for another day or so at the earliest. If we knew what sort of cart it was, we could attack them on the way if there are not too many of them; but unfortunately we don't know that; and as there are three or four roads up to the village, and they are sure to make a detour, we don't know which they will come by. I hope to learn at the village. We will stay where we are till dark, then we will push on; it is only a couple of miles or so from here. I will steal into the place after dark, and try and overhear what is going on. You shall remain at a point where you can see down into the village and can hear a shout. I will give you this letter of Lord Wellington, and if you hear a pistol shot and hear me shout 'Sam!' you will know I am caught, and must make off as hard as you can to that small town in the plain, where there is a French garrison; ask for the commanding-officer, show this letter, and offer to guide them so as to surprise Nunez and his band. That is our sole chance. But I don't think there is much risk of being caught. I shall be very careful, you may rely upon it; and as I know the position of the house, I shall be able to make my way about. Once night has fallen they go off to bed; and even if I walked boldly about the place I should likely enough meet no one all night."
That evening Tom entered the village as soon as it was fairly dark. He knew, from his former experience, that sentries were always placed at points whence they could get a view of the roads, and he made his way so as to avoid any risk of observation by them; but when he reached a place whence he could in turn view the posts of the watchers, he found that they were deserted, and concluded that the brigands had become careless, from the belief that, now the French had once destroyed the village, they would not be likely to come up to search for them there a second time; besides which, they might reckon that the French had their hands much too full with the advance of the Allied Army to spare either men or time in raids upon the guerillas. In this particular, indeed, they would have argued wrongly, for the French during the whole war, however much they were pressed by Wellington, always kept sufficient forces in hand to scatter the guerillas as fast as they become formidable.
Tom had now taken off his beard and wig, and had put on the small whisker, which is the general fashion of wearing the hair throughout Spain. Thus he trusted, if surprised in the dark, to pass as one of the band. So quiet was the village when he entered, that he at first thought it was deserted; at last, however, he saw a light in one of the houses in the center of the village. Approaching carefully and noiselessly he saw a group of five men sitting and drinking round a fire made on the ground, in the center of one of the windowless rooms, the smoke finding its way out through the roof.
"I tell you," one said, "I am getting sick of this life; I am ready to go and kill the French, but to be left up here, where there is nothing to do, no one to talk to, not a roof to cover one; bah! I am sick of it. But Nunez will be back in three days, and we shall be merry enough then."
"Not we," another said, "this was a pleasant village in the old days, what is it now? There are no women, not even old mother Morena, who used to cook well, if she was free of her tongue. There is not even a priest now to shrive us if one is brought in to die."
"Nunez will come back in a good temper if it is true what Lope said yesterday when he came through, that the lads at Madrid had got one of those English boys who made a fool of him two years ago. That was a go. Demonio! but it was a fine thing. If it is true that they have got him and are bringing him here I would not be in his skin for all the treasures of King Joseph. Yes, Nunez was always a devil, but he is worse now. Somehow we always have bad luck, and the band gets smaller and smaller, I don't suppose there's above fifty with him now. I expect we shall have them pretty well all here this week."
"No fear of a visit from the French?"
"None; Reynier at Vittoria is busy now in sending every man he can spare forward to the army that's gathering near Burgos."
This was enough for Tom, who stole silently away to the spot where Sam was anxiously awaiting him.
JUST IN TIME.
"I shall go straight back to Vittoria, Sam. By what they say, General Reynier is in command there, and as it was through his wife that all this terrible business has come about, we have a right to expect him to do his best to get us out of it. I will start at once. Now look here, Sam. You must put yourself where you can keep watch over the village. If you see any party come in, either to-night or to-morrow, you must try and discover if Peter is among them. If he is, light a fire down in that hollow where it can't be seen from above, but where we can see it on that road. It's twenty miles to Vittoria; if I can get to see General Reynier to-morrow, I may be back here with cavalry by night; if he is out or anything prevents it, I will be here next night, as soon after dusk as it will be safe. I will dismount the men and take them over the hill, so as to avoid the sentinel who is sure to be posted on the road when Nunez arrives. If they come in the afternoon, Sam, and you find that anything is going to be done at once, do everything you can to delay matters."
"All right, Massa Tom, if, when you come back you find Massa Peter dead, you be berry sure you find dis chile gone down too."
It was seven o'clock next morning when Tom entered Vittoria, and a few cautious inquiries proved the fact that General Reynier was really in command of the French division there. He at once sought his head-quarters, and after some talk with a woman selling fruit near the house, heard that the general and his staff had started at daybreak, but whither of course she knew not. Tom hesitated for some time, and then, seeing an officer standing at the door, went up to him and asked if the general would be back soon.
"He will be back in an hour or two," the officer replied in Spanish, "but it is no use your waiting to see him. He has his hands full and can't be bothered with petitions as to cattle stolen or orchards robbed. Wait till we have driven the English back, and then we shall have time to talk to you."
"Your pardon," Tom said humbly. "It is not a complaint that I have to make, it is something of real importance which I have to communicate to him."
"You can tell me, I am Colonel Decamps; it will be all the same thing if your news is really important."
"Thank you very kindly, senor, it must be the general himself; I will wait here." Thereupon Tom sat down with his back to the wall a short distance off, pulled out some bread and fruit he had bought in the town, and began quietly to eat his breakfast. An hour later a pretty carriage with two fine horses drew up to the door. It was empty, and was evidently intended for some one in the house. Suddenly, the thought flashed across his mind, perhaps Madame Reynier and her child were there. It was curious that the thought had not occurred to him before, but it had not, and he drew near, when a sentry at the door roughly ordered him to stand further back. Presently a lady came to the door, accompanied by a little girl. There she stood for a minute talking with the officer with whom Tom had spoken. At the moment a young officer passed Tom on his way to the house.
"Monsieur," Tom said, in French, "do me the favor to place that ring in the hands of Madame Reynier. It is a matter of life and death. She will recognize the ring, it is her own," he added, as the young officer in surprise hesitated. He was a bright handsome young fellow, and after a moment's, pause, he went up to the lady. "My dear aunt," he said, "here is a mystery. An old Spanish beggar speaks French, not very good French, but enough to make out, and he begs me to give you this ring, which he says is yours, and which, by the way, looks a valuable one." Madame Reynier, in some surprise, held out her hand for the ring. "It is not mine," she began, when a sudden thought struck her, and turning it round she saw "a Louise Reynier, tumors reconnaissance," which she had had engraved on it, before giving it to Tom. "Who gave it to you, Jules?" she asked eagerly.
"That old pedler," Jules said.
"Bring him in," Madame Reynier said, "the carriage must wait; I must speak to him and alone."
"My dear aunt," began her nephew.
"Don't be afraid, Jules, I am not going to run away with him, and if you are a good boy you shall know all about it afterwards, wait here, Louise, with your cousin;" and beckoning to Tom to follow her, she went into the house, the two officers looking astounded at each other as the supposed Spanish pedler followed her into her sitting-room.
"What is your message?" she asked.
Tom's answer was to remove his wide hat, wig, and beard.
"Himself!" Madame Reynier exclaimed, "my preserver," and she held out both her hands to him. "How glad I am, but oh! how foolish to come here again, and—and"—she hesitated at the thought that he, an English spy, ought not to come to her, the wife of a French general.
Tom guessed her thought. "Even General Reynier might succor us without betraying the interests of his country. Read that, madame; it is an open letter," and he handed her Lord Wellington's letter.
She glanced through it and turned pale. "Your brother! is he in the hands of the guerillas? Where? How?"
"He is in the hands of that scoundrel Nunez; he swore he would be revenged for that day's work, and he has had Peter carried off. No doubt to kill him with torture."
"Oh! and it is through me," Madame Reynier exclaimed, greatly distressed. "What can we do! Please let me consult with my friends, every soldier shall be at your service," and she opened the door. "Colonel Deschamps, Jules, come here directly, and bring Louise with you." These officers, on entering, were struck dumb with astonishment on finding a young peasant instead of an old pedler, and at seeing tears standing in Madame Reynier's eyes. "Louise," she said to her daughter, "look at this gentleman, who is he?"
The child looked hard at Tom; he was dressed nearly as when she first saw him—and as he smiled she recognized him. "Oh, it is the good boy!" she cried, and leaped into Tom's arms, and kissed him heartily.
"Do you think we have gone mad, Jules, Louise and I? This is one of the young English officers who saved our lives, as you have often heard me tell you."
Jules stepped forward, and shook Tom's hand heartily, but Colonel Deschamps looked very serious. "But, madame," he began, "you are wrong to tell me this."
"No, Colonel;" Madame Reynier said, "here is a letter, of which this gentleman is the bearer, from Lord Wellington himself, vouching for him, and asking for the help of every Frenchman."
Colonel Deschamps read it, and his brow cleared, and he held out his hand to Tom. "Pardon my hesitation, sir," he said in Spanish; "but I feared that I was placed in a painful position, between what I owe to my country, and what all French soldiers owe to you, for what you did for Madame Reynier. I am, indeed, glad to find that this letter absolves me from the former duty, and leaves me free to do all I can to discharge the latter debt. Where is your brother, and why has he been carried off? I have known hundreds of our officers assassinated by these Spanish wolves, but never one carried away. An English officer, too, it makes it the more strange!"
Tom now related the story of Peter's abduction; the previous attempts of members of Nunez's band to assassinate them, and the reasons he had for believing that Peter was close to, if not already at, the headquarters of that desperado.
"Is he still there?" Jules asked. "We routed him out directly the general came up here. My aunt declared herself bound by a promise, and would give us no clue as to the position of the village, but he had made himself such a scourge, that there were plenty of others ready to tell; if we had known the roads, we would have killed the whole band, but unfortunately they took the alarm and made off. So he has gone back there again. Ah! there is the general."
Madame Reynier went out to meet her husband, and drawing him aside into another room, explained the whole circumstance to him, with difficulty detaining him long enough to tell her story, as the moment he found that his wife and child's deliverer was in the next room, he desired to rush off to see him. The story over, he rushed impetuously into the room, where Tom was explaining his plans to his French friends, seized him in his arms, and kissed him on both cheeks, as if he had been his son.
"I have longed for this day!" he said, wiping his eyes. "I have prayed that I might some day meet you, to thank you for my wife and child, who would have been lost to me, but for you. And now I hear your gallant brother is paying with his life for that good deed. Tell me what to do, and if necessary I will put the whole division at your orders."
"I do not think that he will have above fifty men with him, general; say eighty, at the outside. Two squadrons of cavalry will be sufficient. They must dismount at the bottom of the hill, and I will lead them up. We must not get within sight of the hill till it is too dark for their look-out to see us, or the alarm would be given, and we should catch no one. We shall know if they have arrived, by a fire my man is to light. If they have not come, then I would put sentries on guard upon every road leading there, and search every cart that comes up; they are sure to have got him hid under some hay, or something of that sort, and there are not likely to be more than two or three men actually with it, so as not to attract attention. It will be all right if they do not arrive there to-day."
"It is about five hours' ride for cavalry," the general said, "that is at an easy pace; it will not be dark enough to approach the hill without being seen till eight o'clock. Two squadrons shall be paraded here at three o'clock. I will go with you myself; yes, and you shall go too, Jules," he said, in answer to an anxious look from his nephew. "In the mean time you can lend our friend some clothes; you are about the same size."
"Come along," Jules said laughing; "I think we can improve your appearance," and, indeed, he did so, for in half an hour Tom returned looking all over a dashing young French hussar, and little Louise clapped her hands and said—
"He does look nice, mamma, don't he? Why can't he stay with us always, and dress like that? and we know he's brave, and he would help papa and Jules to kill the wicked English."
There was a hearty laugh, and Jules was about to tell her that Tom was himself one of the wicked English, but Madame Reynier shook her head, for, as she told him afterwards, it was as well not to tell her, for little mouths would talk, and there was no occasion to set everyone wondering and talking about the visit of an English officer to General Reynier. "There is no treason in it, Jules, still one does not want to be suspected of treason, even by fools."
Sam watched all night, without hearing any sound of vehicles, but in the morning he saw that several more guerillas had come in during the night. In the morning parties of twos and threes began to come in from the direction of Vittoria, and it was evident from the shouting and noise in the village that these brought satisfactory news of some kind. In the afternoon most of them went out again in a body to the wood at the foot of the hill, and soon afterwards Sam saw a cart coming along across the plain. Two men walked beside it, and Sam could see one, if not two more perched upon the top of the load. Three others walked along at a distance of some fifty yards ahead, and as many more at about the same distance behind. He could see others making their way through the fields. "Dis berry bad job," Sam said to himself; "me berry much afraid dat Massa Tom he not get back in time. Der's too many for Sam to fight all by himself, but he must do someting." Whereupon Sam set to to think with all his might, and presently burst into a broad grin. "Sure enough dat do," he said; "now let me arrange all about what dey call de pamerphernalia." First, he emptied out the contents of a couple of dozen pistol cartridges; he wetted the powder and rolled it up in six cartridges, like squibs, three short ones and three much longer. Then he opened Tom's kit, and took out a small box of paints, which Tom had carried with him for making dark lines on his face, and in other ways to assist his disguise. Taking some white paint, Sam painted his eyelids up to his eyebrows, and a circle on his cheeks, giving the eyes at a short distance the appearance of ghastly saucers.
"Dat will do for de present," he said; "now for business. If dey wait till it get dark, all right; if not, Sam do for Nunez and two or three more, and den go down with Massa Peter!"
Then carefully examining the priming of the pair of pistols, which he carried—the very pistols given to Peter by the passengers of the Marlborough coach—he prepared to set out.
It was now six o'clock, and he calculated that the waggon would by this time have mounted the hill, and reached the village; he had already collected a large heap of dry sticks and some logs, at the point Tom had pointed out, these he now lit, and then started for the top of the hill. Looking back, just as he reached the crest, he could see, knowing where it was, a very light smoke curling up over a clump of trees which intervened between him and the fire, but it was so slight that he was convinced that it would not be noticed by an ordinary observer. Sam saw at once, on reaching the top of the hill, that the guerillas were crowded round the waggon, which stood at the edge of a small clump of trees in the middle of the village. The moment was favourable, and he at once started forward, sometimes making a detour, so as to have the shelter of a tree, sometimes stooping behind a low stone wall, until he reached the first house in the village. It was now comparatively easy work, for there were enclosures and walls, the patches of garden-ground were breast-high with weeds, and, stooping and crawling, Sam soon reached a house close to the waggon. It was a mere hut, and had not been repaired. The roof was gone, but the charred shutters and doors still hung on their hinges. It was the very place from which to see without being seen. Sam entered by a door from behind, and found that, through a slight opening in the window-shutter, he could see all that was going on. Some fifty guerillas were standing or sitting in groups at a distance of twenty yards.
In the centre of the groups, lying on the ground, was a figure which he at once recognized as Peter. It was wound round and round with ropes; beside it stood, or rather danced, Nunez pouring forth strings of abuse, of threats, and of curses, and enforcing them with repeated kicks at the motionless figure.
"De debil!" muttered Sam, "me neber able to stand dis. If you not stop dat, Massa Nunez, me put a bullet through dat ugly head of yours, as sure as you stand dere. But me mustn't do it till last ting; for, whether I kill him or not, it's all up with Massa Peter and me if I once fire."
Fortunately Nunez was tired, and in a short time he desisted, and threw himself down on the ground. "Take off his ropes, one of you," he said: "there would be no fear of his running away had he three or four days to live, instead of as many hours. Take the gag out of his mouth, throw some water over him to bring him round, and pour some wine down his throat. I want him to be fresh, so as to be able to enjoy the pleasure we have in store for him. And now let's have dinner."
Sam felt that for another hour at least Peter was safe, and therefore, with the same precaution as before, he crept away from his hiding-place, through the village, and over the hill-crest, to the place where he had made his fire. The logs were burning well, but gave out but little smoke. Sam looked at the sky. "Dusk cum on berry fast," he said; "another hour Massa Tom come on with soldiers. If he see fire, he hurry up sharp." So saying, Sam heaped on a pile of wood, and then made his way back. He knew that Tom would not approach until it was too dark for the movements of the troops to be seen by the look-outs, and that he could not be expected to reach the village until fully an hour after dark. "Just another hour and a half," he said to himself; "ebery thing depend upon what happen before dat time." It was quite dusk before he regained the shelter of the cottage. He had gone round by the wagon, and had taken from it a large stable-fork, muttering as he did so. "Golly! dis de berry ting." Close by he saw the carcase of a bullock which the guerillas had just slaughtered, and from this he cut off the horns and tail.
When Sam peeped out through the shutter he saw that something was going to be done. Nunez was sitting smoking a cigarette, with a look of savage pleasure in his face, while the men heaped up a large fire in front of the trees.
"I don't like dat gentleman's look," Sam said to himself. "It's time dis chile begin to dress for de pantomime, dat quite plain. Massa Tom get here too late." Thus saying, Sam began to deliberately undress.
Peter, his arms and feet still bound, was sitting with his back against a tree, watching what were, he was convinced, the preparations for his death. For the last ten days he had lived in a sort of confused and painful dream. From the moment, when, upon entering his room two hands suddenly gripped his throat, others thrust a gag in the mouth, and then blindfolded him, while some one from behind lashed his arms to his side, and then altogether, lifting him like a log, carried him downstairs and threw him into a cart, he had not till now seen anything. The bandage had never been removed from his eyes, or the cords from his limbs. Sometimes he had been made to sit up, and soup and wine had been poured down his throat, or a piece of bread thrust into his mouth; then he had been again gagged and thrown into a cart. Over him brushwood and fagots had been piled, and there he had lain, until at night a stop was made, when he was taken out, fed, and then thrust back again and covered over.
From the first he had never doubted who were his captors, or what was his destination, and he therefore experienced no surprise whatever, when, on his arrival at the village, on the bandage being taken off his eyes, he saw where he was. That it was useless to beg for mercy of the savages into whose power he had fallen he knew well enough, and he looked as calm and indifferent, as if he did not hear a word of the threats and imprecations which Nunez was heaping on him.
"You see that fire," the enraged guerilla said, "there you shall be roasted! English pig that you are! But not yet. That were too quick a death! Here," he said to his followers, "make a little fire by the side of the big one—there under the arm of that tree; and put on plenty of green leaves: we will smoke our pig a bit before we roast him!"
Peter still eyed him unflinchingly. He was determined that no pain should wring a complaint or prayer for mercy. Even now he did not quite despair, for he thought that he had just one chance of life. He was sure that Tom would move heaven and earth to save him. He reckoned that he would at once guess who had carried him off, and with what object; and he felt that Tom would be certain to set off to his rescue. All this he had reflected over in his long days of weary suffering, and from the moment that he was unbandaged, and propped against the tree, he had listened attentively for any unusual sound. How Tom could rescue him he did not see. He was so utterly crippled, from his long confinement, that he knew that it would be hours, perhaps days, before he could walk a step; yet, still he thought it possible that Tom might try; and he feared more than he hoped, for he trembled lest, if Tom were really there, that he would do some rash thing, which would involve him in his fate. "Whether Tom is here or not," Peter thought as he looked unflinchingly at Nunez, "one thing is certain, if I know my brother, you will not have many days to live after me, for Tom will follow you all over Spain, but he will avenge me at last!" Such were Peter's thoughts, and so likely did he think it that Tom was present, that he was scarcely surprised when he heard, as from the ground behind him, a well-known voice.
"Massa Peter, you keep up your heart. Sam here, Massa Tom he be here in another half hour with French soldiers. If dey go to kill you before dat, Sam play dem trick. Can you run, Massa Peter, if I cut de cord?"
"Dat bad job. Neber mind, Massa Peter, you keep up your heart. Sam keep quiet as long as he can, but when de worst come Sam do de trick all right."
"Don't show yourself, Sam. It would only cost you your life, and couldn't help me; besides, it would put them on their guard. They won't kill me yet. They will smoke me, and so on, but they will make it last as long as they can."
Peter was able to say this, for at the moment Nunez was occupied in rolling and lighting a second cigarette. Peter received no answer, for Sam, seeing some guerillas bringing sticks and leaves to make a fire, as Nunez, had ordered, crept back again into the deep shadow behind. The fire was now giving out volumes of smoke, a guerilla climbed up the tree and slung a rope over it, and three others approached Peter. His heart beat rapidly; but it was with hope, not fear. He knew, from the words of Nunez, that at present he was not going to be burned, but, as he guessed, to be hung over the smoke until he was insensible, and then brought to life again with buckets of water, only to have the suffocation repeated, until it pleased Nunez to try some fresh mode of torture.
It was as he imagined. The rope was attached to his legs, and amid the cheers of the guerillas, two men hauled upon the other end until Peter swung, head downwards, over the fire. There was no flame, but dense volumes of pungent smoke rose in his face. For a moment his eyes smarted with agony, then a choking sensation seized him, his blood seemed to rush into his head, and his veins to be bursting: and there was a confused din in his ears and a last throb of pain, and then he was insensible.
"That's enough for the present," Nunez said; "cut him down."
The men advanced to do so, but paused, with astonishment, for from behind the great fire was a loud yell—"Yah, yah, yah!"—each louder than the last, and then, leaping through the flames appeared, as they supposed, the devil. Sam's appearance was indeed amply sufficient to strike horror in the minds of a band of intensely superstitious men. He had entirely stripped himself, with the exception of his sandals, which he had retained in order to be able to run freely; on his head were two great horns; in one hand he held a fork, and in the other what appeared to be his tail, but which really belonged to the slaughtered bullock. From his month, his horns, and the end of his tail poured volumes of fire, arising, it needs not to say, from the squibs he had prepared. The great white circles round the eyes added to the ghastliness of his appearance, and seeing the terrible figure leap apparently from the flames, it is no wonder that a scream of terror rose from the guerillas. Whatever a Spanish peasant may believe about saints and angels, he believes yet more implicitly in a devil. Black, with horns, and a tail—and here he was—with these appendages tipped with fire! Those who were able turned and fled in terror, those who were too frightened to run fell on their knees and screamed for mercy, while one or two fell insensible from fear. Taking the squibs from his mouth, and giving one more startling yell, to quicken the fugitives, Sam made two strides to where Peter was hanging, cut the rope, and lowered him down.
Nunez had at first joined in the flight, but looking over his shoulder he saw what Sam was doing. His rage and frenzy, at the thought of being cheated of his victim, even by the evil one himself, overcame his fear, and he rushed back, shouting, "He is mine! He is mine! I won't give him to you!" and fired a pistol almost in Sam's face. The ball carried away a portion of one of Sam's ears, and with a yell, even more thrilling than those he had given before, he plunged his pitchfork into the body of the guerilla, then, exerting all his immense strength, he lifted him upon it, as if he had been a truss of straw, took three steps to the great bonfire and cast the brigand into it.
There was a volume of sparks, a tumbling together of big logs, and the most cruel of the Spanish guerillas had ceased to exist.
This awful sight completed the discomfiture of the guerillas—some hearing their chief's shouts and the sound o his pistol had looked round, but the sight of the gigantic fiend casting him into the fire was too much for them. With cries of horror and fear they continued their flight; a few of them, who had fallen on their knees, gained strength enough, from fear, to rise and fly; the rest lay on their faces. Sam saw that for the present all was clear, and lifting up Peter's still insensible body, as if it had no weight whatever, he turned and went at a brisk trot out of the village, then over the crest and down towards the fire.
Then he heard a ring of metal in front of him, and a voice said, "Qui vive!" while another voice said, "Is that you, Sam?"
"Bress de Lord! Massa Tom, dis is me sure enough: and what is much better, here is Massa Peter."
"Thank God!" Tom said fervently. "Is he hurt? Why don't you speak, Peter?"
"He all right, Massa Tom. He talk in a minute or two. Now smoke choke him, he better presently. Here, massa, you take him down to fire, pour a little brandy down his throat. Now, massa officer, I lead de way back to village."
As Tom took Peter in his arms a sudden fire of musketry was heard down on the road.
"Our fellows have got them," Jules said. "I don't know what has alarmed them, but they are running away!"
"Push forward," General Reynier said, "and give no quarter! Jules, keep by the negro, and see that he comes to no harm. The men might mistake him for a guerilla."
The night was pitch dark, and the extraordinary appearance of Sam could not be perceived until after scouring the village and shooting the few wretches whom they found there, they gathered round the fire. Before reaching it, however, Sam had slipped away for a moment into the hut where he had stripped; here he quickly dressed himself, removed the paint from his face, and rejoined the group, who were not a little surprised at seeing his black face.
In a short time the parties who had been posted on all the various roads came in, and it was found that they had between them killed some thirty or forty of the brigands, and had brought in two or three prisoners.
"Have you killed or taken Nunez?" General Reynier asked. "Our work is only half done if that scoundrel has escaped."
"I have asked the prisoners," one of the officers said, "and they tell an extraordinary story, that the devil has just thrown him into the fire!"
"What do they mean by such folly as that," the general asked angrily. "Were they making fun of you?"
"No, sir, they were certainly serious enough over it, and they were all running for their lives when they fell into our hands; they had been horribly frightened at something."
"Ask that fellow there," the general said, pointing to a prisoner who had been brought in by another detachment, "he cannot have spoken to the others."
The man was brought forward, and then Jules asked him in Spanish: "What were you all running away for?"
The man gave a glance of horror at the fire. "The devil came with his pitchfork, fire came out of his mouth, his tail and his horns were tipped with sparks, the captain fired at him, of course the bullet did no good, and the devil put his fork into him, carried him to the fire, and threw him in."
Jules and some of the other young officers burst out laughing, but the general said:—
"Humph! We can easily prove a portion of the story. See if there are any human remains in that fire."
The wind was blowing the other way, but as a sergeant went up to the fire in obedience to the general's order, he said:—
"There is a great smell of burnt flesh here, and, sapristi, yes," as he tossed over the logs with his foot "there is a body here, sir, pretty well burnt up."
"It's a curious story," the general said. "Where is that negro, perhaps he can enlighten us?"
But Sam had already left to look after Peter.
"Jules, put these fellows against that wall and give them a volley, then march the men down to the wood where their horses are. We will bivouac here for the night."
A party now brought up Peter, who had quite come round, but was unable to stand, or indeed to move his arms, so injured was he by the ropes, which had completely cut their way into his flesh. However, he was cheerful and bright, and able really to enjoy the supper which was soon prepared. That done, General Reynier said:—
"Captain Scudamore, will you call your black man when he has finished his supper, which, no doubt, he needs? I want him to tell me what took place before we arrived. The prisoners were full of some cock-and-bull story, that the devil had stuck his fork into their captain and pitched him into the fire, and the story is corroborated, at least to the extent of the fact that, on turning the fire over, we found a body there."
Sam, called and questioned, told the whole story, which Tom translated as he went on to the French officers, and it was received with a chorus of laughter at the thought of the oddity of Sam's appearance, and of the brigands' terror, and with warm admiration for the able stratagem and courage shown by the black.
Tom was delighted, and Peter, who had until now been entirely ignorant of the manner in which he had been saved, feebly pressed Sam's hand and said a few words of gratitude and thanks, which so delighted Sam that he retired to cry quietly.
The next day they moved down to Vittoria, where Peter was tenderly nursed by Madame Reynier. A week later he was fit to sit on horseback, and the next day, after a hearty and affectionate parting, they started to rejoin their own army. Both were now dressed as Spanish gentlemen, and Jules, with four troopers accompanied them as an escort.
They made a long detour to avoid the French army in the field under Clausel, and at last came within sight of the British outposts. Here Jules and his escort halted, and after a warm embrace with the merry young Frenchman, they rode forward, and, after the usual parleying with the pickets, were passed forward to the officer commanding the post. He happened to be well known to them, and after the first surprise, and a few words of explanation, they rode on towards the head-quarters of the army besieging Burgos.
General Clausel fell back as Wellington advanced to Burgos, and the British laid siege to the castle of that place. Like all Wellington's sieges this was commenced with a wholly insufficient train of artillery, and without the time necessary to carry out regular siege operations. A considerable portion of the army were posted so as to watch Clausel. The place was badly fortified, but the French under Governor Dubreton defended themselves with immense skill and courage, the English assaults were repulsed, successful sorties were made by the garrison, and at last, after the failure of the fourth assault, the siege was given up, and the allied armies turned their faces once more towards Portugal.
It was time; the operations in the south upon which Wellington had relied to keep at least a portion of the French forces engaged, had failed signally, and the French generals were bringing up their troops from all parts of Spain, and General Souham, having under him Generals Clausel, Maucune, and Foy, with a force far superior to that of the British, advanced to give battle. Then Wellington, whose Anglo-Portuguese troops were much weakened by sickness, fell back rapidly, sending orders to General Hill, who commanded the troops left behind in Madrid, to evacuate that city, and to fall back and unite with him on the Tormes.
It was only by some masterly maneuvering and some stiff fighting at Venta de Pozo, on the Carrion, and on the Huebra, that Wellington drew off his army to Ciudad Rodrigo.
During the retreat the British suffered very severely, and the discipline of the army became greatly impaired, so much so that Lord Wellington issued a general order rebuking the army, saying that "discipline had deteriorated during the campaign in a greater degree than he had ever witnessed or read of in any army, and this without any unusual privation or hardship, or any long marches."
The number of stragglers may be imagined by the fact that the loss of the allied army was upwards of nine thousand, of whom not more than two thousand were killed and wounded at Burgos, and in the combats during the retreat. This number includes the Spanish as well as the Anglo-Portuguese loss.
It was the beginning of December when the allied army reached their winter quarters around Ciudad Rodrigo. It was fortunate that the season of the year, and the necessity which the French had to refill their magazines, and collect food, gave breathing time and rest to the British. Although strengthened by his junction with Hill, and by the arrival of reinforcements from the coast, Wellington was not in a position to have made a stand against such a force as the French could have brought against him.
Tom and Peter Scudamore had rejoined the army at the hottest part of the siege of Burgos, and had taken up their work at once. Lord Wellington heard from Tom a brief account of what had taken place, and said a few kind words expressive of his pleasure at their both having escaped from so great a peril, and, grave and preoccupied as he was with the position of his army, he yet laughed at the account of the scare Sam had given the guerillas. Among their friends nothing was talked of for a day or two but their adventure. The times were stirring, however, and one event rapidly drove out another. Sam became a greater favorite than ever among the officers of the staff, while the orderlies were never tired of hearing how he pretty nearly frightened a band of guerillas to death by pretending to be the evil one in person.
The next four months were passed in preparations for the grand attack with which Wellington confidently hoped to drive the French out of Spain. The news of the defeat of Napoleon in Russia had cheered the hearts of the enemies of France, and excited them to make a great effort to strike a decisive blow. The French army was weakened by the withdrawal of several corps to strengthen the armies which Napoleon was raising for his campaign in Germany, and British gold had been so freely spent, that the Portuguese army was now in a really efficient state; a portion of the Spanish army had been handed over to Wellington, and were now in a far more trustworthy condition than they had been heretofore, while the whole of the north of Spain was in a state of insurrection, which the French, in spite of all their efforts, were unable to repress.
The invasion was delayed until the end of May, in order that the crops might be in a fit state for the subsistence of the cavalry and baggage animals; but in the last week in that month all was ready, and, in several columns, the allied army poured into Spain nearly a hundred thousand strong. The French, ignorant alike of Wellington's intentions and preparations, were in no position to stem effectually this mighty wave of war, and were driven headlong before it, with many fierce skirmishes, until their scattered forces were, for the most part, united on the Ebro.
Here Joseph occupied a strong position, which he thought to hold until the whole of his troops could come up; but Wellington made a detour, swept round his right, and the French fell back in haste, and took up their position in the basin of Vittoria, where all the stores and baggage which had been carried off as the army retreated from Madrid, Valladolid, Burgos, and other towns, were collected. At Vittoria were gathered the Court, and an enormous mass of fugitives, as all the Spaniards who had adhered to the cause of Joseph had, with their wives and families, accompanied the French in their retreat. Hence the accumulation of baggage animals, and carts, of stores of all descriptions, of magazines, of food and artillery, of helpless, frightened people, was enormous, and, for the retreat of the army in case of defeat, there was but one good road, already encumbered with baggage and fugitives!
This terrible accumulation arose partly from the fault of Joseph, who was wholly unequal to the supreme command in an emergency like the present. Confused and bewildered by the urgency of the danger, he had hesitated, wavered, and lost precious time. By resistance at any of the rivers, which Wellington had passed unopposed, he might easily have gained a few days, and thus have allowed time for the great mass of fugitives to reach the French frontier, and for Foy and Clausel, each of whom were within a day's march upon the day of the battle, to have arrived with a reinforcement of 20,000 good fighting men. Instead of this, he had suffered himself to be outflanked day after day, and his army forced into retreat, without an effort at resistance—a course of action irritating and disheartening to all troops, but especially to the French, who, admirable in attack, are easily dispirited, and are ill suited to defensive warfare.
The position which he had now chosen for the battle, on which his kingdom was to be staked, was badly selected for the action. The front was, indeed, covered by the river Zadora, but this was crossed by seven available bridges, none of which had been broken down, while there was but the one good line of retreat, and this, besides being already encumbered with baggage-wagons, could be easily turned by the allies. The French army, weakened by 5000 men, who had marched upon the preceding days, in charge of convoys for France, were still about 70,000 strong, the allies—British, Portuguese, and Spanish—about 80,000. The French were the strongest in artillery.
Wellington, seeing that Joseph had determined to stand at bay, made his arrangements for the battle. On the left, Graham, with 20,000 men, was to attempt to cross the Zadora at Gamara Mayor, when he would find himself on the main road, behind Vittoria, and so cut the French line of retreat. Hill, with a like force, was to attack on the right, through the defile of Puebla, and so, entering the basin of Vittoria, to threaten the French right, and obtain possession of the bridge of Nanclares. In the center, Wellington himself, with 30,000 troops, would force the four bridges in front of the French center, and attack their main position.
At daybreak on the 21st of June, 1813, the weather being rainy with some mist, the troops moved from their quarters on the Bayas, passed in columns over the bridges in front, and slowly approached the Zadora. About ten o'clock, Hill seized the village of Puebla, and commenced the passage of the defile, while one of the Portuguese battalions scaled the heights above. Here the French met them, and a fierce fight ensued; the French were reinforced on their side, while the 71st Regiment and a battalion of light infantry joined the Portuguese.
Villette's division was sent from the French center to join the fray, while Hill sent up reinforcements. While the fight on the heights still raged, the troops in the defile made their way through, and, driving the French back, won the village of Subijano de Alava, in front of the French main position.
Meanwhile, far to the left, Graham came into action with Reille's division at Gamara Mayor. The French here, knowing the vital importance of the position, fought desperately, and the village of Gamara was taken and retaken several times, but no effort upon the part of the allies sufficed to carry either the bridge at this place or that by which the main road crossed the river higher up. A force, however, was pushed still farther to the left, and there took up a position on the road at Durana, drove back a Franco-Spanish force which occupied it, and thus effectively cut the main line of retreat to France for Joseph's army. The main force under Wellington himself was later in coming into action, the various columns being delayed by the difficulties of making their way through the defiles.
While waiting, however, for the third and seventh divisions, which were the last to arrive, a peasant informed Wellington that the bridge of Tres Puentes was unbroken and unguarded. Kempt's brigade of the light division were immediately ordered to cross, and, being concealed by the inequalities of the ground, they reached it and passed over unobserved, taking their place under shelter of a crest within a few hundred yards of the French main line of battle, and actually in rear of his advanced posts.
Some French cavalry now advanced, but no attack was made upon this isolated body of British troops, for the French were virtually without a commander.
Joseph, finding his flank menaced by the movements of Graham and Hill, now ordered the army to fall back to a crest two miles in the rear, but at this moment the third and seventh divisions advanced at a run towards the bridge of Mendoza, the French artillery opened upon them, the British guns replied, a heavy musketry fire broke out on both sides, and the battle commenced in earnest. Now the advantage gained by the passage of Kempt's brigade became manifest, for the riflemen of his division advanced and took the French advanced cavalry and artillery in flank. These, thus unexpectedly attacked, fell back hastily, and a brigade of the third division took advantage of the moment and crossed the bridge of Mendoza. The other brigade forded the river a little higher up, the seventh division and Vandeleur's brigade of the light division followed, Hill pushed the enemy farther back, and the fourth division crossed by the bridge of Nanclares; other troops forded the river, and the battle became general all along the line.
Seeing that the hill in front of Arinez was nearly denuded of troops by the withdrawal of Villette's division earlier in the day to oppose Hill, Wellington launched Picton with the third division and Kempt's brigade against it, and the French, thus attacked with great strength and fury, and dispirited by the order to retreat, began to fall back. Fifty pieces of artillery and a cloud of skirmishers covered the movement, and the British guns answering, the whole basin became filled with a heavy smoke, under cover of which the French retired to the heights in front of Gomecha, upon which their reserves were posted. Picton and Kempt carried the village of Arinez with the bayonet, Vandeleur captured the village of Margarita, and the 87th Regiment won that of Hermandad.
This advance turned the flank of the French troops near Subijana de Alava, and of those on the Puebla mountain, and both fell back in disorder for two miles, until they made a junction with the main body of their army. Still the British troops pressed forward, the French again fell back, and for six miles a running fight of musketry and artillery was kept up, the ground being very broken, and preventing the concerted action of large bodies of troops. At six o'clock in the afternoon the French stood at bay on the last heights before Vittoria, upon which stood the villages of Ali and Armentia. Behind them was the plain upon which the city stood, and beyond the city thousands of carriages, animals, and non-combatants, women, and children, were crowded together in the extremity of terror as the British shots rang menacingly over their heads.
The French here defended themselves desperately, and for a while the allied advance was checked by the terrible fire of shot and shell. Then the fourth division with a rush carried a hill on the left, and the French again commenced their retreat. Joseph, finding the great road absolutely blocked up, gave orders for a retreat by the road to Salvatierra, and the army, leaving the town of Vittoria on its left, moved off in a compact mass towards the indicated road. This, however, like the other, was choked with carriages. It led through a swamp, and had deep ditches on each side; the artillery, therefore, had to cut their traces and leave their guns behind them, the infantry and cavalry thrust aside the encumbrances and continued their march. Reille, who had defended the upper bridges nobly until the last moment, now came up, and his division acting as a rear guard, covered the retreat, and the French retired with little further loss.
They had lost the battle solely and entirely from the utter incapacity of their general, for their loss had been but little greater than that of the allies, and they fell back in perfect order and full of fighting. The French loss, including prisoners, was not more than 6000, and that of the allies exceeded 5000. The French loss, however, in material was enormous. They carried off two guns only, and 143 fell into the hands of the British. They lost all their parks of ammunition, all their baggage, all their stores, all their treasures, all their booty. Last of all, they lost Spain.
The British pursued the French army for some days, and then invested the two fortresses of San Sebastian and Pampeluna.
Ten days after the battle of Vittoria, Napoleon despatched Soult, one of the best of his generals, to displace Joseph and assume the supreme command of the French troops. Traveling with great speed, he reached the frontier upon the 11th of July and took command. He soon collected together the divisions which had retired beaten but not routed from Vittoria, drew together the troops from Bayonne and the surrounding towns, and in a few days found himself at the head of an army, including the garrisons, of 114,000 men. Besides these there were the armies of Aragon and Catalonia, numbering 60,000 men.
After spending a few days in organizing the army, Soult moved forward to relieve Pampeluna, and then in the heart of the Pyrenees were fought those desperate combats at Maya, Roncevalles, Buenza, Sauroren, and Dona Maria, which are known in history as the battles of the Pyrenees. In these terrible nine days' fighting there were ten serious combats, in which the allies lost 7300 men, the French, including prisoners, over 15,000, and Soult fell back baffled and beaten across the frontier.
Throughout this account of the short and sanguinary campaign by which in two short months Wellington shattered the power of the French and drove them headlong from the Peninsula, but little has been said respecting the doings of the Scudamores. Their duties had been heavy, but devoid of any personal achievements or events. Wellington, the incarnation of activity himself, spared no one around him, and from early dawn until late at night they were on horseback, carrying orders and bringing back reports. At night their quarters were sometimes in a village hut, sometimes in a straggling chateau, which afforded accommodation to the commander-in-chief and his whole staff.
Sam, a good horseman now, was in the highest of spirits at being able to accompany his masters, and, although the Spanish women crossed themselves in horror when they first saw his black face, the boys would hear shouts of laughter arising before they had been a quarter of an hour in fresh quarters. He was a capital cook, and a wonderful hand at hunting up provisions.
There might not be a sign of a feathered creature in a village when the staff came in, but in half an hour Sam would be sure to return from foraging with a couple of fowls and his handkerchief full of eggs. These were, of course, paid for, as the orders against pillaging were of the strictest character, and the army paid, and paid handsomely for everything it ate.
It was, however, difficult to persuade the peasants that payment was intended, and they would hide everything away with vigilant care at the approach of the troops. When by the display of money they were really persuaded that payment was intended, they would produce all that they had willingly enough, but the number of officers wanting to purchase was so great and the amount of live stock so small in the war-ravaged country, that few indeed could obtain even for money anything beside the tough rations of freshly-killed beef issued by the commissariat.
Let the supply be ever so short, however, Sam never returned empty-handed, and the fowls were quickly plucked and on the fire before any one else had succeeded in discovering that there was a bird in the village.
Sam's foraging powers passed into a joke with the staff, and the Scudamores became so curious to discover the reason of his success, that after repeated questioning they persuaded him to tell them.
"Well, massa, de matter berry simple—just easy as fallin' off log. Sam go along, look into yard ob de cottages, presently see feather here, feather there. Dat sign ob fowl. Den knock at door. Woman open always, gib little squeak when she see dis gentleman's colored face. Den she say, 'What you want? Dis house full. Quarter-master take him up for three, four officer.' Den Sam say, 'Illustrious madam, me want to buy two fowls and eggs for master,' and Sam show money in hand. Den she hesitate a little, and not believe Sam mean to pay. Den she say, 'No fowls here.' Den Sam point to de feathers. Den she get in rage and tell lie and say, 'Dem birds all stole yesterday.' Den Sam see it time to talk to de birds—he know dem shut up somewhere in de dark, and Sam he begin to crow berry loud; Sam berry good at dat. He crow for all de world like de cock. Dis wake dem up, and a minute one, two, three, half a dozen cock begin to answer eider from a loft ober house, or from shed, or from somewhere. Den de woman in terrible fright, she say, 'Me sell you two quick, if you will go away and swear you tell no one.' Den Sam swear. Den she run away, come back wid de fowls and some eggs, and always berry much astonished when Sam pay for dem. After dat she lose her fear, she see me pay, and she sells de chickens to oders when they come till all gone. Dat how dis chile manage de affairs, Massa Tom."
The Scudamores had a hearty laugh, and were well pleased to find that Sam's method was one to which not even the strictest disciplinarian could object, a matter concerning which they had previously had grave doubts.
While the battles of the Pyrenees were being fought, the siege of St. Sebastian had continued, and once again the British troops had suffered a terrible loss, from the attempt to carry a fortress with an insufficient siege-train, and without the time necessary to drive the trenches forward in regular form. St. Sebastian stood upon a peninsula. In front of the neck of this peninsula was the hill of San Bartholomeo, on which stood the convent of that name. At the narrowest part of the neck stood a redoubt, which was called the Cask Redoubt, because it was constructed of casks filled with stand. Behind this came the horn-work and other fortifications. Then came the town, while at the end of the peninsula rose a steep rock, called Mount Orgullo, on which stood the citadel. Upon its left side this neck of land was separated from the mainland by the River Urumea; and upon the heights of Mount Olia and the Chofres, across the Urumea, were placed the British batteries, which breached the fortifications facing the river.
General Graham commanded the allied forces, which were detached to undertake the siege, and on the 10th of July batteries were commenced against the convent of San Bartholomeo, which had been fortified by the French. On the 17th the convent was in ruins, and an assault was made upon the position. The 9th Regiment took the place in gallant style, but an attempt being made to carry the cask redoubt, with a rush, the assault was repulsed, the British remaining possessors of San Bartholomeo.
On the 24th the batteries on Mount Olia, having effected what was believed to be a practicable breach, 2000 men of the fifth division, consisting of the 3d battalion of the Royals, the 38th, and the 9th, made an assault at night. To arrive at the breach they had to make their way along the slippery rocks on the bed of the Urumea, exposed to a flank-fire from the river-wall of the town. The breachers had been isolated from the town, and guns placed to take the stormers in flank. The confusion and slaughter were terrible, and at daybreak the survivors fell back, with a loss of forty-nine officers and 520 men.
The whole arrangement of the siege was bad. The plan of Major Smith, of the engineers, a most excellent officer, which had been approved by Wellington, was not followed, and the assault, contrary to Wellington's explicit order, took place at night, instead of by day, the consequence being confusion, delay, and defeat. The total loss to the allies of this first siege of St. Sebastian was 1300 men.
Neither of the Scudamores were present at the first siege, but both witnessed the second assault, of the 31st of August, as Wellington himself was present on the 30th, to see to the execution of the preparation for attack, and they obtained leave to remain for the next day to witness the assault. The siege had been resumed on the 5th of that month, and on the 23d the batteries had opened fire in earnest, and immense damage was done to the defenses and garrison. But upon this occasion, as upon the former one, the proper precautions were not taken; no lodgment had been effected in the horn-work, and, worst of all, the blockade had been so negligently conducted by the fleet, that large bodies of fresh troops, guns, and ammunition had been passed in, and the defense was even stronger than it had been when the first assault was delivered.
General Graham took up his position on the heights of the Chofres to view the assault, and the Scudamores stationed themselves near him. A dense mist hid the fortress from view, and it was not until eight o'clock that the batteries were able to open. Then for three hours they poured a storm of shot and shell upon the defences. The Scudamores sat down in one of the trenches, where they were a little sheltered from the blazing heat of the sun, and Sam took his place at a short distance from them.
As the clock struck eleven the fire slackened, and at that moment Sam exclaimed, "Grolly, Massa Tom, dere dey go." As he spoke Robinson's brigade poured out from the trenches, and, passing through the openings in the sea-wall, began to form on the beach.
It was known that the French had mined the angle of the wall overhanging the beach, and a sergeant, followed by twelve men, dashed gallantly forward to try to cut the train leading to the mine. He was unsuccessful, but the suddenness of the rush startled the French, who at once fired the mine, which exploded, destroying the brave sergeant and his party, and thirty of the leading men of the column, but not doing a tithe of the damage which it would have inflicted had the column been fairly under it.
"Hurrah! dere dey go," Sam exclaimed as the column clambered over the ruins and pursued its way unchecked along the beach. They had, however, to make their way under a storm of fire.
The French, as before, lined the wall, and poured a tremendous musketry fire into their flank, and the batteries of Mount Orgullo and St. Elmo plied them with shot and shell, while two pieces of cannon on the cavalier and one on the horn-work raked them with grape.
Still the column neither halted nor faltered, but dashed, like a wave, up the breach. When, however, they reached the top they could go no farther. A deep gulf separated them from the town, while from every loop-hole and wall behind, the French musketry swept the breach. The troops could not advance and would not retreat, but sullenly stood their ground, heaping the breach with their dead. Fresh bodies of men came up, and each time a crowd of brave men mounted the breach, only to sink down beneath the storm of fire.
"This is awful, horrible, Tom!" Peter said in a choked voice. "Come away, I can't look at this slaughter, it is a thousand times worse than any battle."
Tom made no reply, his own eyes were dim with tears, and he rose to go, taking one more look at the deadly breach, at whose foot the survivors of the last attempt had sunk down, and whence the mass of soldiers were keeping up a musketry fire against the guns and unseen foes who were sweeping them away, when an officer ran up from General Graham's side, and in a minute fifty guns from the Chofres batteries opened a storm of fire upon the curtain and the traverses behind the breach.
It was a terrible trial to the nerves of the assaulting columns when this terrific fire was poured upon a spot only twenty feet above them; but they were not men to shrink, and the men of the light division seized the opportunity to pull up the broken masonry and make a breastwork, known in military terms as a lodgment.
For half an hour the iron storm poured overhead unchecked, smashing the traverse, knocking down the loop-holed walls, and killing numbers of the defenders. Then it ceased, and the troops leapt to their feet, and again rushed up the breach, while the 13th Portuguese Regiment, followed by a detachment of the 24th, waded across the Urumea under a heavy fire from the castle, and attacked the third breach.
But still no entry could be effected. The French fire was as heavy as ever, and the stormers again sank baffled to the foot of the great breach. The assault seemed hopeless, the tide was rising, the reserves were all engaged, and the men had done all that the most desperate courage could do. For five hours the battle had raged, when, just as all appeared lost, one of those circumstances occurred which upset all calculations and decide the fate of battles.