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A MILITARY ADVENTURE IN THE PYRENEES.
BY A PENINSULAR MEDALLIST.
PART I-CHAPTER L.
I CALL it "in the Pyrenees," because, though the affair did not come off amidst the peaks which crest the highest eminences of that stupendous ridge, nor in the dark ravines which intersect its spurs, the hamlet which was the scene of my adventure was situated where the base of the range already begins to swell out of the plain; and that elevated table-land was in fact but a step in the ascent to the lofty summits of the mountains.
Having in the Peninsular campaign of 1812 received a wound which compelled me to pass the winter of 1812-13 at Lisbon as an invalid, I rejoined my regiment in the spring of 1813. I reached the British headquarters in time to partake in the glorious march across the north of Spain, and in its grand finish under the walls of Vittoria. Our regiment was pushed well forward in the early part of the combat, won unrecorded laurels, and, after victory had declared in our favour, advanced rapidly some leagues beyond the city, eastward. In the next few days, after crossing some very high ground, we got into a strange, out-of-the-way district, all thorns and gravel, dried water-courses and barren flats; and at length were halted at a small hamlet, where we rested awhile, and received an order to march in the direction of the French frontiers. Vast was our delight at the prospect of getting into France; but I, alas! was doomed to temporary disappointment. We had a few invalid soldiers, too ill to march; it was necessary to leave them at the hamlet till they could be transferred to the nearest convalescent depôt; an officer must needs remain with them in charge; and I was the fortunate individual, kindly selected by our gallant colonel. I respectfully urged some other arrangement. Why couldn't he have nominated a pawky ensign? "Captain
venience. Consider your health. Why, you look like a shadow! You really must have a little rest. I insist upon it."
Remonstrance was unavailing. The regiment marched, and I remained in charge. The invalids, till we could obtain the means of transporting them back to Vittoria, were lodged in a deserted and plundered convent, which we fitted up for their reception as best we were able. I was billeted by the alcalde in a farmhouse, an old stone building, one of the few tenements in the village that ranked above a hovel. The farmer and all his family had disappeared; but I was courteously received by a jolly old monk. He had prepared dinner, brought out unimpeachable Catalonian wine, and at once made me at home by making himself perfectly so, both at table and in the chimneycorner, where he occupied and filled an ancient arm-chair. The said chair was constructed of light wood or cane, with strips of hide, not leather, nailed crossways, and seemed to be his by prescriptive right.
He was an athletic man, a compound of clerical unction and massive force. Noticing among my baggage a
fowling-piece, and, ceremoniously apologising, he craved permission to examine it; and, when withdrawn from the bag in which it usually travelled, took it into his hands, arighted it, brought it to the present, cocked his eye along it, and scanned it with the contemplatio amorosa of a connoisseur from butt to muzzle. He then courteously, but with a marked interest, begged leave to inquire, was I a sportsman? Evidently gratified by my reply in the affirmative, he assured me that there was no want of game in the immediate neighbourhood; and on the word of a Castellano, promised me a good day's sport, "said he, if I felt well enough to accompany "I settled it so, my dear sir, expressly him the next morning after breakwith a view to your personal con- fast with gun on shoulder.
Breakfast despatched, we set out, I on a mule, the Padre on a jackass. A lad of the village, Francisco by name, who had already begun to attach himself to my service, attended on foot-it was altogether his own voluntary act-to bag, and make himself generally useful. He was a silent, serious-looking youth, wellconducted, and, as I ultimately discovered, not deficient in intelligence.
When the country people in Spain go out shooting, their mode of supplying themselves with dogs is curious enough. On our reaching the Plaza, or open space in the village, the Padre called a halt. He and Francisco immediately began to whistle with all their might;-that was enough. Suddenly emerging from all quarters at once, and evidently understanding the summons, came galloping up to us in a high state of exhilaration, as if eager for the fun, a whole pack of strange, nondescript, shaggy, yelping curs, no two alike, each an original-in short, the street dogs of the hamlet. Certainly I never shot with such dogs before; but under the circumstances they answered our purpose, as I shall presently relate.
The Padre had begged permission to examine my gun the day before. As we rode along, I now took a look at his; it excited my curiosity. Why, it was an old French firelock. I
"To one charge, one bullet." "And pray," said I, "what do you shoot ?"
"You," he replied, "will shoot hares and partridges. Where I am taking you, I trust you will find no want of either. I shall shoot my own game, or not shoot at all."
"Come, come, reverend Padre," said I, "let us understand each other. You, as a Spaniard, have your way of fighting; I, as an Englishman, have mine. Are we sportsmen today, or are we guerillas ?"
"I am not a guerilla,' he replied, except in presence of the enemy; and, to the best of my belief, there are no Frenchmen left alive in this neighbourhood. Were there any, I am not an unlikely person to know it. However you fight, or I fight, this day we are out for sport, and not for war."
I might have inquired further, but preferred waiting to see the result, when we reached our sportingground, and got to work.
The wild dogs of the village, who accompanied us to the number of fifteen or twenty, kept up among themselves no end of noise and squabble as we went along. One bit another; the sufferer yelled with pain, jumped round, and snapped at a third. Sometimes half-a-dozen set upon a single victim, knocked him over, throttled and worried him. Quarrel, jealousy, mutual exasperation and ill-will seemed to inspire the whole pack. Had one of my Kentish friends met me that day, he would
have considerably widened his eyes to see me out shooting with such a following, let alone Francisco with his crimson belt and jaunty cap, and the Padre, who sat on his donkey like a sack of wheat.
To one of my canine attendants, however, my attention ere long was particularly directed; a bitch of about a year old, in deportment and general appearance decidedly more presentable than the rest, and rather less unlike a sporting-dog. It ap peared, in fact, that she had noticed
me, while I had noticed her; for, instead of mingling with the general hullabaloo as she went along, and taking part in the wrangle and running fight with the rest of the pack, she attached herself to me and my mule, and trotted on quietly by my side. In fact, she seemed to have made up her mind for a day's shooting, and to be husbanding her forces till we reached the ground. Observing that this discreet young lady had attracted my notice, Francisco stepped out till he got abreast, and, after walking awhile by my side, watching his opportunity to speak, said at length," She is English."
How, English?" said I. "Her father was English." "Whence comes she?" I asked. "From Madrid. She followed me from Madrid, when I came home." "And what do you know of her parentage ?"
"Her mother was a Madrileña. Her father was an English pointer, brought out to Spain by the Caballero Don Alfredo de la Montaña, of the British cavalry."
Ah, my old acquaintance, Sir Alfred Mountney of the Hussars. Any dog of his would be a good dog, no doubt of it. So here, it seemed, was a cross between the half-wild race of the Peninsula and a thoroughbred English sporting-dog.
A ride of a Spanish league by a gradually ascending route brought us at length to the mouth of a ravine, which we ascended by a still steeper path. This path was in fact only the bed of a winter's torrent, and wound upwards between narrow banks of rock and stunted herbage, till at its extremity we emerged on a tableland, which stretched away to the horizon. This, my friend the Padre informed me, was the scene of our destined sport. Its whole surface, as far as eye could trace, was clumps of dwarfed and, for the most part, thorny shrubs, tangled with tufts of coarse sun-dried grass, the intervals of the thickets being sand and gravel.
Ere we had dismounted and begun to load, our pack jumped forward, and commenced a general gallopade in all directions over the plain, with much yelping, sniffing, and wagging of tails, zealously intent on putting
up the game. I was beginning to wonder how it would be possible to do execution with so many interlopers, but noticed one exception to the outbreak. The Inglesita, as Francisco called her, stood quietly by our side with a very business-like look, waiting till we advanced. I loaded with small-shot, the Padre with ball.
The sport, so far as I was concerned, proved not bad. Hares were plentiful, though it was not always easy to get a shot at them, from the nature of the ground. Neither was there any lack of red-legged partridges, but the difficulty was in persuading them to rise. They ran like wild turkeys, so that-call it unsportsmanlike if you will-it was absolutely necessary to shoot them as they ran, or they would have run out of sight. The Inglesita kept close till I had fired, or went a little in advance, and then made herself useful in recovering the game, which Francisco bagged perpetually, with gravity and much gusto. I once thought I noticed her coming to. something very like a point. Awhile, with an air of graceful embarrassment, she stood on three legs, as if not knowing what to do with the fourth. As to the other dogs, they rendered good service after their fashion by beating up the game, but got so much in the way, it was a wonder I escaped lodging a few grains under some of their hides; which indeed they almost tempted me to do more than once-with a view to their improvement.
I was getting excited by the sport, when I suddenly heard a sharp crack, and the whiz of a bullet. So! my reverend comrade had found his game. "I have killed!" he shouted; “I always kill!"
The Inglesita ran forward; but speedily ran back again, her tail swollen, her bristles erect, her whole aspect eminently expressive of scorn, indignation, confusion, and disgust.
What could it be? The other dogs now gathered in the same direction, and stood round in a circle, barking with indescribable fury at something in their midst, to which they appeared either afraid or indisposed to approach nearer.
The Padre walked up, and by the
In that sequestered village I remained for some days, in charge of my sick and wounded soldiers, things going on as usual. The jolly old guerilla-monk rejoiced in exercising the laws of hospitality, and was my companion in several shooting excursions, with Francisco, the Inglesita, and the same posse comitatus of village dogs. On one occasion the Rev. Padre conducted me to a small reedy lake embosomed in hills, where, what with wild-fowls and enormous water-snakes, we had a very fair day's sport. Generally, however, we took the direction of the sandy, bushy, elevated table-land, and came staggering home under a load of hares and red-legged partridges, of which our patients, much to their own satisfaction, got an ample portion. It will not surprise any one who has gone through the exhausting, and, to a marching officer, the inglorious fatigues of a campaign, if I confess that this period of vocation, though not far remote from great strategic movements, and almost within the sound of big guns, was soothing to my spirits, as well as recreative to an exhausted constitution. Little did I dream that war, in a novel form, was about to beat up my quiet quarters. But let me not anticipate. The Padre, adhering to his own ideas of sporting, went on as before, shooting foxes with ball, or shooting nothing; in which peculiar line of things he continued to meet with occasional success. I never knew him miss a shot, but of course his opportunities were few.
When the regiment marched on,
and I was left in charge, it was duly notified to me that a military surgeon would be sent from Vittoria to attend on our invalids. I anxiously waited day by day, but no surgeon came. Wrote letters-got answers--some criminative, some plaintive, some explanatory and unintelligible, some highly satisfactory-still no surgeon. The fact is, as I afterwards discovered, a young doctor, fresh from England, had landed in the north of Spain; and this was the gentleman designated to give us the benefit of his services. But partly from confusion of orders, partly from the tardiness of communication, partly from his own want of campaigning experience, he remained for some time, with the best intentions, totally ignorant of his destination; and having knocked about from place to place, he at last reached our hamlet, with his case of instruments in the highest order for work, some fourand-twenty hours after the last of our sick men had been sent off for Vittoria.
Destitute as we were thus left of surgical and medical aid in our village hospital, I had procured, on my own responsibility, the occasional attendance of a rural practitioner-a native Spaniard. But he, a silent and meagre man, did little more than look at the patients: one poor fellow had already died, on the second day from our arrival; and, after a week's waiting, I was getting so savage at this strange neglect, that I was wellnigh taking some extraordinary step which might have destroyed my professional prospects for life, when the arrival of unlooked-for visitors brought us seasonable relief.
I had just returned with the Padre and Francisco from a morning's sport, and was giving orders in front of my billet for the conveyance of hares and birds to the hospital, when, looking down into the lane which led up into the village from the open country to the south, we became cognisant of an arrival. At this time we were always on the qui vive, especially in that direction. For the defeat of the French at Vittoria had been followed by a general break-up of their forces in Spain; all were eager to get back into France; there was a perpetual rush of Frenchmen in small parties from south to north, in the direction of the frontiers; there was also a perpetual decimation of their ranks by the exasperated peasantry; and my friend the Padre was perpetually on the look-out, prepared with a knife or a bullet for any "Francez" that might cross his path. He snorted at the sight of the approaching travellers; his dark complexion grew a trifle darker, and his look particularly quiet and savage.
"Four!" said he, in an altered tone of voice, a little husky and choking-like; "two on donkeys, one on mule-back, and one on foot. Are you loaded "
“Nonsense, nonsense," said I. "Be quiet."
"Oh, very good, Señor Capitan; all the same," said he. "If you prefer it, we can give them board and lodging for the night, and take them to-morrow after breakfast, as they pass up the hollow road."
"Why, look at them," I replied. "Two of them at least are Spaniards, I undertake to say, even at this distance."
"Ah, Santa Eufemia!" he exclaimed, seeing better as they came nearer, "a party of wounded men! Look, one of them has his head bandaged, another has his arm in a sling."
Ere long the party reached us. Two were Spanish peasants, wounded in an affair with the French. The third was an addition to my hospital, in the shape of an English soldier. He had been taken prisoner; and, in
the general break-up of the French army, had made his escape, assisted by the natives. Too much weakened by exhaustion and privation to alight without help, he looked around for a friendly arm. The Padre stepped up, took him affectionately round the waist, lifted him easy out of the saddle, and carried him like a baby into the house.
"Señor Capitan," said the Padre as he came out with an air of exhilaration, "for such an invalid as that your hospital is just the place. He requires no medicine, which you have not got. What he needs is rest and food, of which I trust there will be no want."
The two wounded Spaniards, also, were now assisted in, with a view to supplying the immediate wants of the whole party, previous to an arrangement for their removal to the hospital.
While the Padre was occupied with our new guests within, my own attention was directed to the individual who had accompanied them on foot. His age might be from five to eight and twenty; he wore an old Spanish cloak, which nearly concealed his person, and a very old Spanish cocked-hat. His face, though not old, was weather-beaten, and lined with wrinkles which indicated anxiety and suffering. I could not make him out. His quick eye was certainly not English, and, I thought, not Spanish. He privately made a hasty sign, as if wishing to commu nicate, and bespeaking confidence. Guessing how matters stood, I ap proached the beasts, and began to examine them.
"Monsieur," said he in a whisper, addressing me in French, "I perceive that you are an English officer. I have the honour to be a French officer."
"Very good," said I; "speak gently, if you please, but not in a whisper."
Monsieur," he continued, "I am a man of immense resources, or you would not see me here. My life during the last few days has been exposed to perpetual peril, which I