The Bravest of the Brave by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIII: The French Convoy
A report having arrived at the camp of the Count of Cifuentes that the peasants around Saragossa had risen in insurrection, Jack thought that he should be doing more good by discovering the truth of the rumor, and by keeping the earl informed of the state of things in the enemy's rear, than by remaining with the count. He hesitated whether he should take his two orderlies with him, but as they were well mounted he decided that they should accompany him, as they would add to his authority, and would, in case of need, enable him the better to assume the position of an officer riding in advance of a considerable force.
After a hearty adieu from the Count of Cifuentes, he started soon after daybreak. After riding for some hours, just as he reached the top of a rise, up which he had walked his horse, one of the orderlies, who were riding a few paces behind him, rode up.
"I think, Captain Stilwell," he said, "I hear the sound of firing. Brown thinks he hears it too."
Jack reined in his horse.
"I hear nothing," he said, after a pause of a minute.
"I don't hear it now, sir," the man said. "I think it came down on a puff of wind.. If you wait a minute or two I think you will hear it."
Jack waited another two minutes, and then was about to resume his journey, when suddenly a faint sound came upon the wind.
"You are right, Thompson," he exclaimed, "that's firing, sure enough. It must be a convoy attacked by peasants."
He touched his horse with the spur and galloped forward. Two miles further on, crossing the brow, they saw, half a mile ahead of them in the dip of the valley, a number of wagons huddled together. On either side of the road men were lying, and the spurts of smoke that rose from these, as well as from the wagons, proved that they were still stoutly defending themselves. A light smoke rose from every bush and rock on the hillsides around, showing how numerous were the assailants. Leaving the road, Jack galloped toward the hill. Presently several balls came singing round them.
"They think we are French, sir," one of the troopers said. "I guess they don't know much about uniforms."
Jack drew out a white handkerchief and waved it as he rode forward, shouting as he did, "English, English." The fire ceased, and the little party soon reached the spot where the peasants were lying thickly in their ambushes.
"I am an English officer," Jack said as he leaped from his horse. "Where is your leader?"
"There is one of them," a peasant said, pointing to a priest, who, with a long musket in his hand, rose from behind a log.
"Reverend father," Jack said, "I have come from the Earl of Peterborough with a mission to understand how matters go in Arragon, and to ascertain what force would be likely to join him in this province against the invader."
"You see for yourself how things go," the priest said. "I am glad to see an officer of the great Earl of Peterborough, whose exploits have excited the admiration of all Spain. To whom have I the honor of speaking?"
"I am Captain Stilwell, one of the earl's aides de camp; and you, father?"
"I am Ignacio Bravos, the humble padre of the village of San Aldephonso. And now, Captain Stilwell, if you will excuse me till we make an end of these accursed Frenchmen, afterward I will be at your service."
For another two hour's the conflict continued. Jack saw that the fire of the defenders of the wagons was decreasing, and he was not surprised when a white handkerchief was raised on the top of a bayonet and waved in the air in token of desire to parley. A shout of exultation rose from the Spaniards. The priest showed himself on the hillside.
"Do you surrender?" he shouted.
"We surrender the wagons," an officer called back, "on condition that we are allowed to march off with our arms without molestation."
A shout of refusal rose from the peasants, and the firing was instantly renewed. Jack went and sat down by the side of the priest.
"Father," he said, "it were best to give these men the terms they ask. War is not massacre."
"Quite so, my son," the priest replied coolly. "That is what you should have told Marshal Tesse. It is he who has chosen to make it massacre. Why, man, he has shot and hung hundreds in cold blood in and around Saragossa, has burned numerous villages in the neighborhood, and put man, woman, and child to the sword."
"Then, if this be so, father, I should say, by all means hang Marshal Tesse when you catch him, but do not punish the innocent for the guilty. You must remember that these men have been taken away from their homes in France, and forced to fight in quarrels in which they have no concern. Like yourself, they are Catholics. Above all, remember how many scores of villages are at present at the mercy of the French. If the news comes to the marshal that you have refused quarter to his soldiers, he will have a fair excuse for taking vengeance on such of your countrymen as may be in his power."
"There is something in that," the priest said. "For myself I have no pity, not a scrap of it, for these Frenchmen, nor would you have, had you seen as much of their doings as I have, nor do I think that any retribution that we might deal out to the men could increase Tesse's hatred and ferocity toward us."
"Still, it might serve as an excuse," Jack urged. "Remember the eyes of Europe are upon this struggle, and that the report of wholesale slaughter of your enemies will not influence public opinion in your favor."
"Public opinion goes for nothing," the priest said shortly.
"Pardon me, father," Jack replied. "The English and Dutch and the Duke of Savoy are all fighting in your favor, and we may even boast that had it not been for the Earl of Peterborough and the allies the chains of France would be riveted firmly round your necks. You will tell me, no doubt, that they are fighting for their own political ends, and from no true love for the Spanish people. That may be so, but you must remember that although governments begin wars it is the people who carry them on. Let the people of England and Holland hear, as they will hear, of the brutal ferocity of the French marshal on a defenseless people, and their sympathies will be strongly with you. They will urge their governments to action, and vote willingly the necessary sums for carrying on the war. Let them hear that with you too war is massacre, that you take no prisoners, and kill all that fall into your hands, and, believe me, the public will soon grow sick of the war carried on with such cruelty on both sides."
"You are right, my son," the priest said frankly. "Young as you are, you have seen more of the world than I, who, since I left the University of Salamanca, have never been ten miles from my native village. I will do what I can to put a stop to this matter. But I am not solely in command here. I lead my own village, but there are the men of a score of villages lying on these hills. But I will summon all the chiefs to a council now."
The priest called half a dozen of the peasants to him, and dispatched them with orders to bring all the other leaders to take part in a council with an English officer who had arrived from the great Earl of Peterborough.
In half an hour some twenty men were assembled in a little hollow on the hillside, where they were sheltered from the fire of the French. Four or five of these were priests. There were two or three innkeepers. The remainder were small landed proprietors. Father Ignacio first addressed them. He stated that the English officer had come on a mission from the earl, and had arrived accidentally while the fight was going on, and that he was of opinion that the French offer of surrender should be accepted. A murmur of dissent went round the circle.
"I was at first of your opinion," the priest said, "but the reasons which this English officer has given me in support of his advice have brought me round to his way of thinking. I will leave him to state them to you."
Jack now rose to his feet, and repeated the arguments which he had used to the priest. He gathered from the faces of his hearers that, although some were convinced that mercy would be the best policy, others were still bent upon revenge. Father Ignacio then, in language which he thought best suited to touch his hearers, repeated Jack's arguments, urging very strongly the vengeance which the French marshal would be sure to take upon the Spanish population of the country through which he was passing when he heard the news.
"Besides," Jack said, when he had finished, "you must remember you have not conquered the enemy yet. I see the officer has withdrawn all his men among the wagons, where their shelter will be nearly as good as yours. They have, doubtless, abundant stores of ammunition in those wagons, together with food and wine, and if you force them to fight to the last man they can hold out for a very long time, and will inflict a heavy loss upon your men before they are overcome."
"But why should they take their weapons with them?" one of the men said; "they will be useful to us. Why should we let them carry them away to kill more Spaniards?"
"The reason why I would let them take their arms is this," Jack said. "Unless they march away armed you will not be able to restrain your followers, who will be likely to break any convention you may make and to massacre them without mercy. As to the arms being used again against you, I will put the officers under their parole that they and their men shall not take any further part in the war until they are exchanged for an equal number of prisoners taken by the French."
"Who would trust to a Frenchman's word?" a man asked scoffingly.
"I would trust to a French officer's word as much as to that of an English officer," Jack replied. "You would expect them to trust to your word that they should be safe if they laid down their arms; and yet, as you know, you might not be able to keep it. Better a thousand times that a handful of French officers and men should be allowed to join the enemy's ranks than that the national honor of Spain should be soiled by a massacre perpetrated just after a surrender."
"The Englishman is right," Father Ignacio said positively. "Let us waste no further words on it. Besides, I have a reason of my own. I started before daybreak without breakfast and have got nothing but a piece of dry bread with me. If we don't accept these fellows' surrender we may be on the hillside all night, and I told my servant that I should have a larded capon and a flask of my best wine for dinner. That is an argument, my sons, which I am sure comes home to you all; and remember, if we accept the surrender we shall soon quench our thirst on the good wine which, I doubt not, is contained in some of the barrels I see down yonder."
There was a hearty laugh and the question was settled; and it was arranged at once that Father Ignacio, one of the other leaders, and Jack should treat with the enemy. The other leaders hurried away to their respective sections to order them to cease firing when a white flag was raised; and, having given them twenty minutes to get to their several posts, a white handkerchief was waved in the air. The Spanish fire ceased at once, and as soon as the French perceived the flag they also stopped firing.
"We are coming down, three of us, to discuss matters with you," Father Ignacio shouted out.
The three accordingly descended the hill, and when within a short distance of the wagons were met by the officer in command of the convoy and two others.
"We have come to discuss the terms of your surrender," Jack said. "I am Captain Stilwell, one of Lord Peterborough's aides de camp. You see your position is desperate."
"Not quite desperate," the French officer replied; "we have plenty of ammunition and abundance of provisions, and can hold out for a long time, till rescue comes."
"There is little chance of rescue," Jack said. "Your marshal has his hands full where he is; and even did he hear of your situation and detach a force back to your rescue, neither of which he is likely to do, that force would have to fight every foot of its way, and assuredly not arrive in time. Nor is there any more chance of your receiving succor from the rear. You have made a gallant defense, sir, and might perhaps hold out for many hours yet; but of what use is it sacrificing the lives of your men in a vain resistance?"
"What is your proposal?" the officer asked.
"We propose," Jack said, "to allow you to march out with your arms and five rounds of ammunition to each man, on you and your officers giving me your parole to consider yourselves and your men as prisoners of war, and not to serve again until exchanged."
The terms were far better than the French officer had looked for.
"I may tell you," Father Ignacio said, "that for these terms you are indebted solely to this English officer. Had it depended upon us only, rest assured that no one of you would have gone away alive."
"You will understand," Jack said, "that you will be allowed to take your arms solely as a protection against the peasants, who have been justly enraged by the brutal atrocities of your general. You know well that even could their leaders here obtain from their followers a respect for the terms of surrender, your men would be massacred in the first village through which they passed were they deprived of their arms. My friends here are desirous that no stigma of massacre shall rest upon the Spanish honor, and they have therefore agreed to allow your men to keep their arms for purposes of defense on their return march."
After a few words with his fellow officers the commander of the convoy agreed to the terms. "You will, however," he said, "permit me to take with me one or more wagons, as may be required, to carry off my wounded?"
This was at once agreed to, and in ten minutes the two companies of French infantry were in readiness to march. There were forty wounded in the wagons, and twenty-seven dead were left behind them. The French officer in command, before marching off, thanked Jack very heartily for his interference on their behalf.
"I tell you frankly, Captain Stilwell," he said, "that I had no hopes whatever that I or any of my men would leave the ground alive, for these Spaniards invariably massacre prisoners who fall into their hands. I could not have left my wounded behind me; and even if I had resolved to do so, the chances of our fighting our way back in safety would have been small indeed. We owe you our lives, sir; and should it ever be in the power of Major Ferre to repay the debt, you may rely upon me."
"I trust that the fortune of war may never place me in a position when I may need to recall your promise," Jack said, smiling; "but should it do so, I will not fail to remind you if I get a chance."
All was now ready for the march. Two wagons which had been hastily emptied were, with the wounded men, placed in the center, and the French, numbering now less than a hundred, started on their march. The Spanish peasants remained in their places on the hillside till they had departed, as the leaders had agreed that it was better they should be kept away from the vicinity of the French, as a quarrel would be certain to take place did they come to close quarters. The peasants were indignant at what they deemed the escape of their enemies; but the desire of plunder soon overcame other considerations, and as soon as the French had marched off they poured down from the hills. Their leaders, however, restrained them from indiscriminate plundering. There were in all eighty-seven wagons loaded with wine, corn, flour, and provisions for the use of the army.
An equal division was made of these among the various bands of peasants in proportion to their strength. A few casks of wine were broached. The peasants then buried their own dead--who were very few in number, so securely had they been sheltered in their hiding places--and then the force broke up, each party marching with its proportion of wagons back to its village.
"Now, Signor Capitano," Father Ignacio said, "I trust that you will come home with me. My village is six miles away, and I will do my best to make you comfortable. Hitherto you have seen me only as a man of war. I can assure you that I am much more estimable in my proper character as a man of peace. And let me tell you, my cook is excellent; the wine of the village is famous in the province, and I have some in my cellars ten years old."
"I cannot resist such a number of good arguments," Jack said, smiling, "and till tomorrow morning I am at your service; but I warn you that my appetite just at present is ravenous, and that my two dragoons are likely to make a serious inroad upon the larders of your village, however well supplied."
"They will be welcome," the priest said, "and I guarantee the larders will prove sufficiently well stocked. Fortunately, although nearly every village in the neighborhood has been raided by the French, owing to our good fortune and the interposition of the blessed San Aldephonso our village has escaped a visit."
The party under Father Ignacio soon turned off from the main road, and, with the six wagons which fell to their share, journeyed along a. rough country road until they reached the village. Father Ignacio sat on the leading wagon, and Jack rode alongside chatting with him. The priest was a stout built man, with a good humored countenance and merry twinkle of the eye, and Jack wondered what could have been the special wrong that induced him to take up a musket and lead his flock to the attack of a French convoy.
"Katherine!" he shouted as the wagon stopped in front of his house and a buxom serving woman appeared at the door, "dinner as quickly as possible, for we are starving; and let it be not only quick, but plentiful. Lay a cover for this gentleman, who will dine with me; and prepare an ample supply of food in the kitchen for these two English soldiers, who have come across the sea to fight for the good cause.
"And now," he said to Jack, "while dinner is preparing I must distribute the spoil."
The wagons were unloaded and their contents divided among the men who had take a part in the expedition, his flock insisting upon the padre taking a bountiful share.
The mules and bullocks in the wagons were similarly divided, in this case one being given to each family; for there were but thirty animals, while the fighting contingent from the village had numbered nearly eighty men. There were five or six animals over when the division had been made, and these were given, in addition to their proper share, to the families of three men who had been killed in the fight.
"Now, my sons," the padre said when all was done, "take your axes and fall upon the wagons. A wagon is a thing to swear by. Every man knows his own goods; and should the French ever visit our village again these wagons might cost us dear. Therefore let them be made into firewood as quickly as possible, and let them all be consumed before other fuel is touched. And now, capitano, I think that Katherine will be ready for us."
So saying he led the way back into his house. A capital meal was provided, and Jack found that the priest had by no means over praised either his cook or his cellar. After the meal was over and the two had drawn their chairs up to the hearth, on which was blazing brightly some wood which Jack recognized as forming part of one of the wagons, and the priest had placed on a small table close at hand a large flask which he had himself gone into the cellar to fetch, Jack said:
"How is it, father, that, as you told me, you have seen such acts of brutality on the part of the French as to cause you to wage a war without mercy against them, when, as you say, they have never penetrated to your village? Your reasons must be strong, for your profession is a peaceful one. You do not look like a man who would rush into deeds of violence for their own sake, and your cook and your cellar offer you strong inducements to remain at home."
"That is so, my son," the priest said with a laugh. "I am, as you may see, an easygoing man, well contented with my lot, and envy not the Bishop of Toledo; but you know it is said that even a worm will turn, and so you have seen the peaceful priest enacting the part of the bloodthirsty captain. But, my son,"--and his face grew grave now--"you can little imagine the deeds which the ferocious Tesse has enacted here in Arragon. When warring with you English the French behave like a civilized nation; when warring with us Spanish peasants, who have no means of making our wrongs known to the world, they behave worse than a horde of brutal savages. But I will tell you the circumstances which have driven me to place myself at the head of my parishioners, to wage a war of extermination with the French, and to deny mercy to every one of that accursed nation who may fall into my hands. I have a brother--or rather I should say I had one--a well to do farmer who lived at a village some six miles from Saragossa. He had an only daughter, who was to be married to the son of a neighboring proprietor. A handsome, high spirited lad he was, and devoted to Nina. They were to have been married some three months ago, and they wrote to me to go over to perform the ceremony.
"I went; the wedding day arrived, and all was ready. It was a holiday in the village, for both were favorites. The bride was dressed; the village maidens and men were all in their best; the procession was about to set out, when a troop of dragoons rode suddenly in from Saragossa. A shot or two had been fired at them as they rode through a wood. When they arrived they dismounted, and the commander ordered the principal men of the village to be brought to him. My brother and the father of the bridegroom were among them.
"'My troops have been fired at,' the Frenchman said, 'and I hold you responsible.'
"'It was no one from this village,' my brother said; 'we have a wedding here, and not a soul is absent.'
"'I care not,' the officer said; 'we have been fired at, and we shall give the people of this district a lesson.'
"So without another word he turned to his soldiers and ordered them to fire the village from end to end.
"'It is outrageous,' my brother said, and the others joined him in the cry. I, too, implored him to pause before having such an order carried into execution. His only reply was to give the order to his men.
"The six principal men were seized at once, were set with their backs against the wall of a house, and shot."
"You cannot mean it!" Jack exclaimed indignantly. "Surely such an outrage could never be perpetrated by civilized soldiers?"
"I saw it done," the priest said bitterly. "I tried to throw myself between the victims and their murderers, but I was held back by force by the soldiers. Imagine the scene if you can--the screaming women, the outburst of vain fury among the men, The bridegroom, in his despair at seeing his father murdered, seized a stick and rushed at the French officer; but he, drawing a pistol, shot him dead, and the soldiers poured a volley into his companions, killing some eight or ten others. Resistance was hopeless. Those who were unwounded fled; those who fell were bayoneted on the spot. I took my niece's arm and led her quietly away. Even the French soldiers drew back before us. You should have seen her face. Madre de Dios! I see it now--I see it always. She died that night. Not one word passed her lips from the moment when her father and her affianced husband fell dead before her eyes. An hour later the troop rode off, and the people stole back to bury their dead among the ashes of what had been their homes. I went to Saragossa after reading the funeral service over them. I saw Tesse and told him of the scene I had witnessed, and demanded vengeance. He laughed in my face. Senor, I persisted, and he got angry and told me that, were it not for my cloth, he would hang me from the steeple. I called down Heaven's curse upon him, and left him and came home. Do you wonder, senor, that I found it hard to spare those Frenchmen for whom you pleaded? Do you wonder that I, a man of peace, lead out my villagers to slaughter our enemy?"
"I do not, indeed!" Jack exclaimed warmly. "Such acts as these would stir the blood of the coldest into fire; and, priest or no priest, a man would be less than a man who did not try to take vengeance for so foul a deed. Have many massacres of this sort been perpetrated?"
"Many," the priest replied, "and in no case has any redress been obtained by the relatives of the victims."
"And throughout all Arragon, does the same hatred of the French prevail?"
"Everywhere," the priest said.
"Then King Charles would meet with an enthusiastic welcome here!"
"I do not say that," the priest answered. "He would be well received, doubtless, simply because he is the enemy of the French; but for himself, no. We Arragonese cannot for the life of us see why we should be ruled over by a foreigner; and in some respects a German king is even less to be desired than a French one. The connection between the two Latin nations is naturally closer than between us and the Germans, and a French king would more readily adapt himself to our ways than would a stiff and thick headed German.
"Apart from the recent doings of the French army Arragon would have preferred Philip to Charles. Moreover, Charles is looked upon as the choice of the Catalans and Valencians, and why should the men of Arragon take the king others have chosen? No, King Charles will doubtless be received well because he appears as the enemy of the French; but you will not find that the people of Arragon will make any great sacrifices in his behalf. Let a French army enter our province again, every man will rise in arms against it; but there will be little disposition to raise troops to follow King Charles beyond the limits of the province. Castile is strong for Philip; the jealousy there of the Catalans is even greater than here, and the fact that Arragon will go with Catalonia and Valencia will only render the Castilians more earnest in the cause of Philip. There have been several skirmishes already between bands of our Miquelets and those of Castile, and the whole country along the border is greatly disturbed."
"It is a pity that Spaniards cannot agree among themselves as to who shall be king."
"Ah, my son, but it will be very long yet before. Spaniards agree upon any point. It is a mistake to think of us as one nation. We are half a dozen nations under one king. If you are asked your nationality, you reply an Englishman. If you ask a Spaniard, he will reply, I am a Castilian or a Catalan, an Arragonese or Biscayan --never I am a Spaniard. We hate each other as you Scotchmen and Englishmen hated each other a hundred years back, and even now regard yourselves as different peoples. What connection is there between the hardy mountaineer of the northern provinces and the easygoing peasant of Valencia or Andalusia? Nothing. Consequently, if one part of Spain declares for one man as a king, you may be sure that the other will declare against him.
"As long as we had great men, Spaniards, for our kings--and the descent went in the regular way from father to son--things went smoothly, because no pretender could have a shadow of claim. As between two foreign princes, each man has a right to choose for himself. Were there any Spaniard with a shadow of claim, all parties would rally round him; but, unfortunately, this is not so; and I foresee an epoch of war and trouble before the matter is settled. For myself, I tell you I would not give that flask of wine were I able to put the crown upon the head of one or other of these foreigners. Let whoever gets the crown govern well and strongly, tax my villagers lightly, and interfere in no way with our privileges, and I shall be well content, and such you will find is the opinion of most men in Spain. And now, tell me if there is aught that I can do for you. You say you must be on your way by daybreak. Tell me in which direction you journey, and it will be hard if I cannot find a friend there with whom my introduction will insure you a hearty welcome."
"If you can tell me where are the largest gatherings of Miquelets, I can tell you which way I shall ride," Jack replied. "My mission is to ascertain what aid the king can rely upon in this province."
"Three days ago there were many thousands of men under arms," the priest replied; "by tonight there will be less than as many hundreds. The day Tesse crossed the frontier with his army the greater portion of the bands went to their homes, and their arms will be laid aside until the news comes that the French army is on its return from Barcelona. I fancy there is but little chance of our seeing King Charles among us. In another day or two Tesse will be before Barcelona; and joined, as he will be there, by the French army marching down from Roussillon, he will make quick work of that town, and King Charles will have the choice of going to Valencia to be hunted shortly thence, or of sailing away again from the country in your ships."
"It would seem like it," Jack agreed; "but you are reckoning without the Earl of Peterborough."
"Your English general must be a wonder," the priest said, "a marvel; but he cannot accomplish impossibilities. What can he do with two or three thousand trained troops against twenty thousand veteran French soldiers?"
"I cannot tell what he will do," Jack laughed; "but you may rely upon it that he will do something, and I would take fair odds that he will somehow or other save Barcelona and rid Catalonia of its invaders."
"That I judge to be altogether impossible," the priest replied. "Anything that man could do I am ready to admit that your general is capable of; but I do not judge this to be within the range of possibilities. If you will take my advice, my son, you will not linger here, but will ride for Valencia and embark on board your ships with him when the time comes."
"We shall see," Jack said, laughing. "I have faith in the improbable. It may not be so very long before I drop in again to drink another flask of your wine on my way through Arragon with King Charles on his march toward Madrid."
"If you do, my son, I will produce a bottle of wine to which this is but ditch water. I have three or four stored away in my cellar which I preserve for great occasions. They are the remains of the cellar of my predecessor, as good a judge of wine as ever lived. It is forty years since he laid them by, and they were, he said, the best vintage he had ever come across. Had the good old man died ten years earlier, what a heritage would have been mine! but in his later years he was not so saving as it behooves a good man to be, and indulged in them on minor occasions; consequently, but two dozen remained when I succeeded to the charge twenty years ago. I, too, was not sufficiently chary of them to begin with, and all but six bottles were drunk in the first ten years. Since then I have been as stingy as a miser, and but two bottles have been opened."
"I hope, father, that you have laid in a similar supply for whomsoever may come after you."
"Surely I have, my son. Fifteen years ago I had a hogshead of the finest vintage in the neighborhood bricked up in my cellar. I had an inscription placed on the wall by which, should I be taken suddenly, my successor may know of the store that awaits him. At present you would not find the inscription did you search for it; for when those troubles began I filled up the letters in the stone with mortar, and gave the wall two or three coats of whitewash. I did not choose to run any risk of my grand wine going down the throats of thirsty French soldiers. It would be an act of sacrilege. When matters are settled, and we are at peace again, I will pick out the mortar from the letters; but not till then. I have often reflected since how short sighted it was not to have stowed away another hogshead for my own consumption. It would have been something to have looked forward to in my declining years."
"Ah, father, who knows what may happen before that? The wall may fall down, and then naturally you would wish to see whether the wine is in as good a condition as it should be. Besides, you will say to yourself, why, when my successor left me but a miserable two dozen of that grand wine of his, should I bequeath a whole hogshead to him who may come after me, and who, moreover, may be so bad a judge of wine that he will value my treasure no more than an equal quantity of the rough country vintage?"
"Avaunt, tempter!" the priest said, laughing. "But," he added more seriously, "you have frightened me. I never thought of that. I have always pictured my successor as a man who would appreciate good wine as I do myself. Truly, it would be a terrible misfortune did he not do so--a veritable throwing of pearls before swine. Now that you have presented this dreadful idea it will be ever in my mind. I shall no longer think of my hogshead with unmixed satisfaction."
"The idea is a terrible one, truly," Jack said gravely, "and to prevent it I would advise you when the time of peace arrives to open your cave, to bottle off your wine, and to secure its being appreciated by indulging in it yourself on special occasions and holidays, taking care always to leave a store equal to, or even superior to, that which you yourself inherited."
"I will think it over, my son, and it may be that I shall take your advice. Such a misfortune as that which you have suggested is too terrible to think of."
"It is so, father, terrible indeed; and I feel confident that you will do the best in your power to prevent the possibility of its occurrence. Besides, you know, wine may be kept even too long. I judge you not to be more than forty-five now; with so good a cook and so good a cellar you may reasonably expect to live to the age of eighty; there is, therefore, plenty of time for you to lay in another hogshead to mature for your successor."
The priest burst into a roar of laughter, in which Jack joined him.
"Your reasoning powers are admirable," he said when he recovered his gravity, "and you have completely convinced me. An hour ago if it had been suggested to me that I should open that cellar I should have viewed the proposal with horror; now it seems to me that it is the very best thing that could be done for all parties, including the wine itself."
There was some further chat as to the course which Jack would follow in the morning, and he decided finally to ride to the borders of Castile in order that he might learn as much as possible as to the feeling of people in that province. Father Ignacio gave him a letter of introduction to the priest in charge of a village a mile or two within the border of Arragon, and the next morning Jack started at daybreak, after a hearty adieu from his host, who insisted on rising to see him off.