With Moore At Corunna by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIII. An Awkward Position
When Captain Nelson and Terence went out, just as the morning was breaking, they found the two troopers waiting in the street. Each held a spare horse; the one was that upon which Terence had ridden from Coimbra, the other was a fine English horse.
"What horse is this?" Terence asked.
"It is a present to you from Sir John Cradock," Captain Nelson said. "He told me last night that the troopers had been ordered to ask for it when they took your horse this morning, and that his men were ordered to hand it over to them. He wished me to tell you that he had pleasure in presenting the horse to you as a mark of his great satisfaction at the manner in which you had mastered the military details of Sir John Moore's expedition, and the clearness with which you had explained them."
"I am indeed greatly obliged to the general; it is most kind of him," Terence said. "Will you please express my thanks to him in a proper way, Captain Nelson."
They rode to the Treasury, where they found the Portuguese escort, with the mules, waiting them. The officer in charge of the Treasury was already there, and admitted the two officers.
"I have packed the money in ammunition-boxes," he said. "I received instructions from Mr. Villiers to do so."
"It is evident that your words had some effect, Mr. O'Connor," Captain Nelson said aside to Terence. "I suppose that when he thought it over he came to the conclusion that, after all, your suggestions, were prudent ones, and that it would add to the chance of the money reaching Romana were he to adopt it."
"I am glad that he did so, for had the money been placed in the ordinary chests and then brought to the barracks to be packed in ammunition-cases, the Portuguese troopers would all have been sure of the nature of the contents; whereas now, whatever they may suspect, they cannot be sure about it, because there is a large amount of ammunition stored in the same building."
Some of the guard stationed in the Treasury carried the chests out, and assisted the muleteers to lash them in their places.
"I cannot thank you too warmly, Captain Nelson, for the kindness that you have shown me," Terence said.
"Not at all," that officer replied; "I simply carried out the general's orders, and the duty has been a very pleasant one. No, I don't think I would mount that horse if I were you," he went on, as Terence walked towards his acquisition. "I would have him led as far as Coimbra, while you ride the horse you borrowed there, then he will be fresh for the further journey."
"That would be the best way, no doubt, though our stages must all be comparatively short ones, owing to our having mules with us."
"I should not press them if I were you. I don't suppose that it will make much difference whether Romana gets the money a few days sooner or later."
"None whatever, I should say," Terence laughed, as he mounted his horse. "Still, I do think that he will be able to gather a mob of peasants. Of course, being almost without arms, they will be of no use whatever for fighting, but still they may harass Soult's communications, cut off stragglers, and compel him to move slowly and cautiously."
Terence now saluted the Portuguese officer, who said, as he returned the salute:
"My name, senor, is Juan Herrara."
"And mine is Terence O'Connor, senor. Our journey will be a somewhat long one together, and I hope that we shall meet with no adventures or accidents by the way."
"I hope not, senor. My instructions are simple; I am to place myself under your orders, and to convey eight cases of ammunition to the northern frontier, and to follow the routes that you may point out. I was ordered also to pick the men who are to form the escort. I have done so, and I think I can answer that they can be relied upon to do their duty under all circumstances."
Terence now turned, and with a hearty farewell to Captain Nelson, rode on by the side of Lieutenant Herrara. The two British troopers followed them, the four mules with their two muleteers kept close behind, and the twelve Portuguese troopers brought up the rear.
"It is a strong escort for four mules carrying ammunition," the Portuguese officer said, with a smile.
"It may seem so," Terence laughed, "but you see the country, especially north of the Douro, is greatly disturbed."
"Very much so, and I think that the precaution that has been taken is a very wise one. I have been informed what is really in the cases. Were I going by myself with a sergeant and twelve men, I should say that to put the money in ammunition-cases was not only absolutely useless but dangerous, the disproportion between the force and the value of the ammunition would be so great that it would attract attention at once, but as you are with us it is more likely to pass without observation. You are an officer on the staff of the English general. You have your own two orderlies, and, as you are carrying despatches, it is considered necessary that you should have an escort of our people. The cases in that event would seem to be of little importance, but to be simply travelling with us to have the advantage of the protection of our escort."
"You are quite right, Senior Herrara, and it would have been vastly better had the money been stowed in sacks filled up with grain; then they could follow a short distance behind us, and it would seem that they were simply carrying forage for our use on the road."
"That would have been very much better, senior. You might have it done at Torres Vedras."
"The money is in bags, each containing two hundred dollars. There will be no trouble in transferring them to sacks filled with plenty of forage. Two of your soldiers have behind them a bundle or two of faggots, a basket of fowls, and other matters; these can be piled on the top of the sacks, so that the fact that the principal load was forage would hardly be noticed. You might mention to the muleteers that I thought that it would be a considerable saving of weight if we used sacks instead of those heavy cases, and that the ammunition would travel just as well in the one as the other. We must arrange so that the muleteers do not suspect anything."
"As a rule," Herrara said, "they are very trustworthy. There is scarcely a case known in which they have stolen goods intrusted to them, however valuable; but it would be easy to place a few packets of ammunition in the mouth of each sack, and call them in to cord them up firmly. The sight of the ammunition would go far to lessen any suspicions they might have."
They reached Torres Vedras that night. Terence spoke to the officer in command there, and was furnished with the sacks he required, and enough forage to fill them. The boxes were put into a room in the barracks, and here Terence, with his two orderlies, opened the cases and transferred the bags of money to the centre of the sacks. Two or three dozen packets of ammunition were obtained, and a few put into the mouths of the sacks. These were left open, and the room locked up, two of the Portuguese soldiers being placed on guard before it. Terence and Lieutenant Herrara were invited to dine at mess and had quarters assigned to them, and Terence, after dinner, again, but much more briefly than before, gave the officers at the station a sketch of the retreat and battle.
The next morning the muleteers were called in to fasten up the sacks. At the suggestion of the officer in command, a tent was also taken.
"You may want it badly before you are done," he said. "If I were you I should always have it pitched, except when you are at a village, for you can have the sacks in as beds, and so keep them under your eye; and if, as you tell me, you are giving out that they contain ammunition, it would seem but a natural step, as you are so able to keep it dry."
The mules looked more heavily laden than upon the preceding day, but they were carrying no heavier burden, for the weight of the tent, its poles, the basket of fowls, Terence's valise, and other articles, were considerably less than those of the eight heavy cases that had been left behind. The two officers now rode at the head of the detachment, and two only of the Portuguese soldiers kept in rear of the mules, which now followed at a distance of thirty or forty yards behind them. They stopped that night at Rolica and the next at Leirya. This was a long march, and a short one the next day brought them to Pombal, and the following afternoon they arrived at Coimbra. Here they spent another pleasant evening with the regiment stationed in the town.
"By the way, O'Connor," one of the officers said, after the dinner was over and cigars lighted, "I suppose you don't happen to have any relations at Oporto?"
"Well, I do happen to have some," Terence answered, in some surprise. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, that is singular," the officer said; "I will tell you how it happened. I was with the party that escorted the French prisoners down to Oporto. Just as we had got into the town--it was before the row began, and being early in the morning, there were very few people about--a head appeared at a window on the second floor of a big convent standing on the left side of the road. I remember the name was carved over the door-it was the Convent of Santa Maria. I happened to catch sight of the nun, and she at once dropped a little letter, which fell close to me. I picked it up and stuck it into my glove, and thought no more about it for a time, for the mob soon began to gather, to yell and threaten the prisoners, and my hands were too full, till we had got them safely on board a ship, to think any more of the matter. When I took off my glove the letter fell out. It was simply addressed 'to an English officer.'
"'I, an English girl, am detained here, a prisoner, principally because my Spanish relations wish to seize my property. I have been made a nun by force, though my father was a Protestant, and taught me his religion. I pray you to endeavour to obtain my freedom. I am made most miserable here, and am kept in solitary confinement. I have nothing to eat but bread and water, because I will not sign a renunciation of my property. The Bishop of Oporto has himself threatened me, and it is useless to appeal to him. Nothing but an English army being stationed here can save me. Have pity upon me, and aid me.'
"It was signed 'Mary O'Connor.' Of course no British troops have been there since, but if we are sent there I had made up my mind to bring the matter before the general, and ask him to interfere on the poor girl's behalf; though I know that it would be an awkward matter. For if there is one thing that the Portuguese are more touchy about than another, it is any interference in religious matters, and the bishop, who is a most intolerant rascal, would be the last man who would give way on such a subject."
"I have not the least doubt in the world but that it is a cousin of mine," Terence said. "Her father went out to join a firm of wine merchants in Oporto. I know that he married a very rich Portuguese heiress, and that they had one daughter. My father told me that he gathered from his cousin's letters that he and his wife did not get on very well together. He died two years ago, and it is quite possible that the mother, who may perhaps want to marry again, has shut the girl up in a convent to get rid of her altogether, and to make her sign a document renouncing her right to the property in favour of herself, or possibly, as the bishop seems to have meddled in the affair, partly of the Church.
"I quite see that nothing can be done now, but if we do occupy Oporto, some day, which is likely enough, I will speak to the general, and if he says that it is a matter that he cannot entertain, I will see what I can do to get her out."
"It is awkward work, O'Connor, fooling with a nunnery either here or in Spain. The Portuguese are not so bigoted as the Spaniards across the frontier, but there is not much difference, and if anyone is caught meddling with a nunnery they would tear him to pieces, especially in Oporto, where men who are even suspected of hostility to the bishop are murdered every day."
"I don't want to run the risk of being torn to pieces, certainly, but after what you have told me of her letter, I will not let my little cousin be imprisoned all her life in a nunnery, and robbed of her property, without making some strong effort to save her."
"I will give you the letter presently, O'Connor; I have it in a pocket-book at my quarters. By the by, how old is your cousin?"
"About my own age, or a little younger."
The subject of the conversation was then changed, and half an hour later the officer left the room and returned with the letter.
"At any rate," he said, "if we do go to Oporto you will have more opportunity for getting the general to move than I should."
Terence had handed over the horse he had borrowed, with many thanks for its use, and received his own again, which was in good condition after its rest of seven or eight days. It was by no means a valuable animal, but he thought it as well to take it on with him in case any of the other horses should meet with an accident or break down during the journey through the mountains.
Coimbra was the last British station through which they would pass, and the real difficulties of the journey would now begin. Terence had, before starting, received a sum of money for the maintenance of himself and his escort upon the way, and he had done all in his power to see that the troopers were comfortable at their various halting-places.
The journey as far as the Douro passed without any adventure. They encountered on the road several bands of peasants armed with pikes, clubs, hoes, and a few guns. These were for the most part ordenancas or levies, called out when a larger force than the regular troops and militia was required. They were on their way to join the forces assembling under the edicts, and beyond pausing to stare at the British officer with the two dragoons behind him and an escort of their own troops, they paid no attention to the party.
They crossed the Douro at St. Joa de Pesquiera, and on stopping at a large village some ten miles beyond, found it occupied by a rabble of some two thousand men, absolutely useless for service in the field, but capable of offering an obstinate defence to the passage of a river, or of impeding an enemy's advance through a mountain defile. As they stopped before the principal inn a man, dressed in some attempt at a uniform, came out from a door.
"You are a British officer, sir?" he asked Terence, raising his broad hat courteously.
"I am an officer on the English general's staff, and am proceeding on a mission from him to the northern frontier to ascertain the best means of defence, and the route that the enemy are most likely to move by if they attempt to invade Portugal from that direction."
"The French general would hardly venture to do that," the officer said, disdainfully, "when there will be 50,000 Portuguese to bar his way."
"He may be in ignorance of the force that will gather to meet him," Terence said, gravely, and with difficulty restraining a smile at the confident tone of this leader of an armed mob. "However, I have my orders to carry out. Do you not think," he said, turning to Herrara, "that it will be better for us to go on to the next hamlet, if there is one within two or three miles. I fear there is little chance of obtaining any accommodation for our men here."
"There is no need for that," the Portuguese colonel broke in. "There is a large house at the end of the village that is at present vacant; the proprietor, who was a disturber of the peace, and who belonged to the French faction, was killed last week in the course of a disturbance created by him. I, as Commissioner of the Junta here, had the house closed up, but it is quite at your service."
As the march had already been a long one, Terence thought it best to accept the offer. The colonel called a man, who presently brought a key, and accompanied them to the house in question. It showed signs at once of mob violence. The snow in the garden was trampled down, the windows broken, and one of the lower ones smashed in as if an entry had been effected here. The door was riddled with bullet holes. Upon this being opened the destruction within was seen to be complete, rooms being strewn with broken furniture and litter of all sorts.
"At any rate there is plenty of firewood," the lieutenant said, as he ordered his men to clear out one of the rooms. "There has been dastardly work here," he went on, as the man who had brought the key left the place.
"Yes, I have no doubt the proprietor, whoever he was, has been foully murdered, and as likely as not by the orders of that fellow we met, who says he is Commissioner of the Junta. I should not be surprised if we have trouble with him before we have done. I should think, Herrara, you had better send off a couple of men to get what they can in the way of provisions and a skin of wine. This is a cheerless-looking place, and these broken windows are not of much use for keeping out the cold. Bull, you had better see if you can find something among all this rubbish to hang up in front of the window, for in its present state it merely creates a draught."
The orderly went out, and returned with two torn curtains.
"There has been some bad work going on here, sir," he said. "There are pools of blood in three of the rooms upstairs, and it is evident that there has been a desperate struggle. One of the doors is broken in, and there are several shot-holes through it."
"I am afraid there has been bad work. I suppose the man here was obnoxious to somebody, so they murdered him. However, it is not our business."
Some of the horses were stabled in a large shed, the others in the lower rooms of the house, the soldiers and muleteers taking possession of the large kitchen, where they soon had a huge fire burning. The windows on this side of the house were unbroken. The two orderlies soon fastened up the curtains across the windows of the officers' room, and when the fire was lighted it had a more cheerful aspect. The burdens of the mules were brought into the room opposite, where there was a key in the door and bars across the windows. Presently the soldiers returned with some meat, a couple of fowls, bread, and some wine, together with a bunch of candles. The fowls were soon plucked, cut in two, and grilled over the fire, and in a quarter of an hour after the men's return the two officers sat down to supper. The meal was just finished when there was a knock at the outer door, and the soldier acting as sentry came in and said that Colonel Cortingos desired to speak to them.
"I suppose that is the fellow we saw in the town," Terence said; "show him in."
The supposition was a correct one, for the man entered, accompanied by two others. Terence had no doubt that this fellow was the author of the attack upon the house, and the murderer of the proprietor and others. He did not feel disposed to be exceptionally civil to him, but as he had a couple of thousand men under his command and had certainly put the only available place in the village at their disposal, he rose as he entered.
"These two gentlemen," the colonel began, "form, with myself, the committee appointed by the Junta of Oporto to organize the national resistance here and in the surrounding neighbourhood, to keep our eye upon persons suspected of being favourable to the enemy, and to arrest and send them to Oporto for trial. We are also enjoined to make close inquiries into the business of all persons who may pass through here."
"I have already told you," Terence said, quietly, "that I am an officer on the staff of the English general, and that I have a mission from him to see what are the best means of defending the northern passes, and, I may add, to enter into such arrangements as I may think proper with the leaders of any bands who may be gathered for the purpose of defending them. As I am acting under the direct orders of the general, I in no way recognize the right of any local authority to interfere with me in any way."
"And I, Lieutenant Herrara, have been ordered by the colonel of my regiment to command the escort of Portuguese cavalry told off to accompany this British officer, and also feel myself free from any interference or examination by civilians."
"I am a colonel!" Cortingos said, angrily.
"By whom appointed, if I may ask?"
"By the Junta of Oporto."
"I was not aware that they possessed the right of granting high commissions," Herrara said, "although, of course, they can grant temporary rank to those who command irregular forces. This British officer has assured you as to the object of his journey, and unless that object has had the approval of the military authorities at Lisbon he would not have been furnished with an escort by them."
"I have only his word and yours as to that," Cortingos said, insolently. "I am acting under the orders of the supreme authority of this province."
"You are doing your duty, no doubt," the lieutenant said, "in making these inquiries. This officer has answered them, and I will answer any further questions if I consider them to be reasonable."
"We wish, in the first place," Cortingos said, "to examine any official passes you may have received."
"Our official passes are our uniforms," Herrara replied, haughtily.
"Uniforms have been useful for purposes of disguise before now," Cortingos replied. "I again ask you to show me your authority."
"Here is an authority," Terence broke in. "Here is a despatch from General Sir John Cradock to General Romana."
"Ah, ah, a Spaniard."
"A Spanish general, a marquis and grandee of Spain, who has been fighting the French, and who is now with a portion of his army preparing to defend the passes into Portugal."
Cortingos held out his hand for the paper, but Terence put it back again into the breast-pocket of his uniform.
"No, sir," he said; "this communication is for the Marquis of Romana, and for him only. No one else touches it so long as I am alive to defend it."
The colonel whispered to his two associates.
"We will let that pass for the present," he replied, and turning to Terence again, said, "In the next place we wish to know the nature of the contents of the sacks that are being carried by the mules that accompany you."
"They contain ammunition, and forage for our horses," Lieutenant Herrara said. "You can, if you choose, question the muleteers, who fastened up the sacks and had an opportunity of seeing the ammunition."
"In the name of the Junta I demand that ammunition!" Cortingos said, with an air of authority. "It is monstrous that ammunition should be taken to Spaniards, who have already shown that they are incapable of using it with any effect, while here we have loyal men ready to die in their country's defence, but altogether unprovided with ammunition."
"For that, sir, you must apply to your Junta. Since they give you orders, let them give you ammunition; there is enough in Oporto to supply the whole population, had they arms; and you may be assured that I and my men will see that the convoy intrusted to our charge reaches its destination."
"I believe that there is not only ammunition, but money in those sacks," said Cortingos. "It would be an act of treachery to allow it to pass, when, even if not taken to them directly, it might fall into the hands of the French. It is needed here; my men lack shoes and clothes, and as you say the object of your mission is to see to the defence of our frontier, any money you may have cannot be better applied than to satisfy the necessities of my soldiers. However, we do not wish to take steps that might appear unfriendly. And, therefore, if you will allow us to inspect the contents of those sacks, we will let you pass on if we find that they contain no money--confiscating only the ammunition for the use of the troops of the province."
"I refuse absolutely," Herrara said, "to allow anything confided to my charge to be touched."
"That is your final decision," the man said, with a sneer.
"Final and absolute."
"I also shall do my duty;" and then, without another word, the colonel with his two associates left the house.
"We shall have trouble with that fellow," Herrara said.
"So much the better," Terence replied. "We have evidence here that the scoundrel is a murderer. No doubt he had some private enmity against the owner of this establishment, and so denounced him to the Junta, and then attacked the place, murdered him, and perhaps some of his servants, and sacked the house. They won't find it so easy a job as it was last time; all the windows are barred, and there are only three on this floor to defend. The shutters of two of them are uninjured, so it is only the one where they broke in before that they can attack, while our men at the windows upstairs will make it hot for them as they approach. But I should hardly think that the men he calls soldiers will venture to attack a party of regular troops."
The lieutenant shrugged his shoulders.
"He will tell them some lies, probably assert that we are French agents in disguise taking money to the French army. Indeed, there is neither order nor discipline among these bands, and, roused to a pitch of fury, they would murder their own leaders as readily as anyone else. The Junta acts as if the province were altogether independent, and numbers of men of position have been butchered on the pretence of their being adherents of the French, when their sole crime was that they disapproved of the doings of the bishop and his tools. You will see that the night will not pass off without something happening. Of course, I shall be sorry to have to order the men to fire. In the first place it would render it very difficult for us to resume our journey; and in the second, if we succeed in getting out alive, they will send a lying account of the affair to Lisbon, and there will be all sorts of trouble. Still, of course, if they attack the house we shall defend ourselves."
The two officers then made a tour of the house and carefully examined the means of defence. The broken shutters were replaced in their position in the window, and were backed with a pile of the fragments of furniture. The horses were all brought in from the shed outside, the soldiers were warned that the mob in the place were likely to attack them, and four of them were placed as sentries at the upper windows; and, by the looks of the men when the lieutenant made the communication to them, Terence saw that they could be relied upon.
"I have no doubt that we shall be able to defend the place successfully," Terence said to the two British troopers; "but if the worst comes to the worst we will all mount inside the house, throw open the door behind, and then go right at them. But I hope that we shall avoid a fight, for if we have one, it will be very difficult for us to make our way to the north, or to get back across the Douro."
In an hour one of the sentries at the upper window brought news that a large number of men were approaching. Terence at once gave some orders that he and the lieutenant had agreed upon to the two soldiers, and four of the Portuguese troopers, and then went up with the lieutenant to the window over the door. He threw it open just as a crowd of men poured into the garden in front.
"What is it?" he asked. "What do you want?"
"I demand entrance to this house in the name of the Junta of Oporto," a voice which he recognized as that of Cortingos replied. "If that is refused I shall denounce you as traitors to Portugal, and your blood will be on your own heads."
"We respect the orders of the Junta," Herrara replied, "and are ready to open the door as you demand; but I must first be assured that it is really the committee appointed by the Junta that demand it."
Several of the men had torches, and these were brought forward, and they saw the man and his two associates standing in front.
"Good, I will open the door," the lieutenant said, and he and Terence went down. The bars were removed and the door thrown open, the two officers walked a few paces outside, and then halted.
Followed closely by their armed followers, the three men approached, confident in the strength of their following.
"Enter, gentlemen," Terence said. "I protest against this invasion, by force, but I cannot oppose it."
The three men entered the door, the two officers standing aside and allowing them to pass. The instant the three Portuguese had entered Terence and the lieutenant threw themselves suddenly upon those following them. Two or three rolled over with the suddenness of the assault, and the rest recoiled a step or two. Before they could recover themselves Herrara and Terence dashed through the door, which was slammed to and barred by the two English troopers. Meanwhile, the three men had been seized by the Portuguese troopers, their coats torn off them, and their hands tied behind their backs, and then they were hurried upstairs.
Yells of fury filled the air outside, shots were fired at the windows, and men began to beat the door and shutters with bludgeons and hatchets. Suddenly a light appeared from a window above, and Cortingos and his two friends were seen standing there. By the side of each stood a trooper, holding a rope with a noose round the prisoners' necks. For a moment there was a silence of stupefaction outside, followed by a yell of fury from the mob. Herrara went to the window and shouted: "My friends." Again there was a moment of silence, as each wanted to hear what he said. "My friends, at the first shot that is fired, or the first blow that is struck at the doors of this house, these three men will be hung out of the window. They have deceived you grossly. I am an officer of the National Army, these troopers are men of the 2d Portuguese Dragoons. We have been appointed by the military authorities of Lisbon to escort this British officer, who is on the staff of the British general, and whose commission is to make arrangements with the Spanish general, Romana to harass the rear of the French, and attack their convoys should they attempt to enter the northern passes.
"These three scoundrels have deceived you, in order, as they hoped, to obtain some money that they believed us to be escorting. As loyal Portuguese, I warn you against attempting to aid the fellows in a deed which would bring disgrace upon the national name, and would result in the British general refusing to assist in the defence of your country. You are brave men, but you see these three cowards are trembling like children. We advise you to appoint fresh officers among yourselves, and to remain faithful to your duty, which is to march when ordered to the defence of the defiles. These three fellows we shall take with us, and will see that they do not further deceive you. Already they have done harm enough by goading you to theft, and to murder a man whose only fault was that he was more patriotic than they are. Be assured that in no case would you be able to carry this house. It is defended by sixteen well-armed men, and hundreds of you would throw away your lives in the attempt. Therefore, I advise you to go back to your quarters, and in the morning assemble and choose your officers."
The crowd stood irresolute.
"Tell them to go, you cur," Herrara said to Cortingos, standing back from the window and giving him a kick that almost sent him on his face. "Tell them to disperse at once, if you don't want to be dangling from the end of this rope."
Cortingos stepped forward, and in a quavering voice told the men to disperse to their quarters.
"We have made a mistake," he said. "I am now convinced that these officers are what they appear to be. I beseech you do not cause trouble, and disperse at once--quietly."
Hoots of derision and scorn rose from the peasants.
"I have a good mind to fire a shot before I go," one of the peasants shouted, "just for the pleasure of seeing three such cowards hung."
Another yell of disgust and anger arose, and then the crowd melted away.
"Keep these three fellows at the window. Remove the ropes from their necks, and take your place behind them; you will be relieved every hour. If they move, bayonet them at once."
"We shall die of cold," one of the men whimpered.
"That would be a more honourable death than you are likely to meet," Terence said, scornfully. "I fancy if I don't hang you, those men in the village will do so if they can lay hands on you."
"How about the sentries, sir?" the corporal of the escort asked Herrara as they went downstairs. "They can all be removed except the one keeping guard over these men--he is to be relieved every hour--and one inside the door, he can be relieved every two hours."
The night passed quietly. Just as they were preparing to start next morning, the soldier on guard over the prisoners shouted, "There is a crowd of men coming!"
"Get your arms ready," Herrara said to the escort; "but I don't think there will be any occasion to use them."
Terence went to the door. "Bull, do you and Macwitty keep close behind; but whatever happens don't use your weapons, unless I order you to do so."
The crowd stopped at the gate, two of them only coming forward.
"We are ready to fight, sir," one said, addressing Terence, "but we have no officers; none of us know anything about drill. We will follow you, if you will command us, and you will find that we won't turn our backs to the enemy. We know that English officers will fight."
"Wait a minute or two," Terence said, after a moment's hesitation, "I will then give you my answer."
Herrara had followed him out and heard the offer.
"I don't know what to do, Herrara," Terence said, as he re-entered the house. "My instructions are to join Romana, and to remain with him for a time, sending word to Lisbon as to the state of things, and aiding him in any way in my power. Here are between two and three thousand stout, healthy fellows, evidently disposed to fight. If they were armed I would not hesitate a moment, but I don't suppose that there are a hundred muskets among them, and certainly Romana has none to give them. Still, in the defiles we might give a good deal of trouble to the French by rolling stones down, breaking up bridges, and that sort of thing."
"It would be good fun," Herrara laughed. "As for myself," he said, "I have orders to return as soon as I have seen the treasure safely in Romana's camp. If it hadn't been for that I should have liked nothing better, though there would not have been much chance for cavalry work in these defiles."
"I will talk to them again," Terence said. "It is not often that one gets the chance of an independent command. It is just the sort of work I should like."
He went out again. "I should like to command a number of brave fellows," he said, "but the question is about arms. There have been any quantity sent out by England for your use; but instead of being served out, the Juntas keep them all hidden up in magazines. Even now, when the French are going to invade your country, they still keep them locked up, and send you out with only pikes and staves to fight against a well-armed army. It is nothing short of murder."
"Down with the Juntas!" cried half a dozen of the men standing near enough to hear what was said.
"I don't say 'Down with the Juntas!'" Terence replied; "but I do say take arms if you can get them. Are there any magazines near here?"
"There is one at Castro, ten miles away," the man said. "I know that there are waggon-loads of arms there."
"Well, my friends, the matter stands thus: I, as a British officer, cannot lead you to break open magazines; but I say this, if you choose to go in a body to Castro and do it yourselves, and arm yourselves with all the muskets that you can find there, and bring with you a good store of ammunition in carts that you could take with you from here, and then come to me at a spot where I will halt to-night five or six miles beyond Castro, I will take command of you. But mind, if I command, I command. I must have absolute obedience. It is only by obeying my orders without question that you can hope to do any good. The first man who disobeys me I shall shoot on the spot, and if others are disposed to support him I shall leave you at once."
"I will consult the others," the man said. "Many of us, I know, will be glad to fight under an English officer, and agree to obey him implicitly."
"Very well, I will give you a quarter of an hour to decide."
Before that time had elapsed a dozen men came to the door with the principal spokesman.
"We have made up our minds, senor. We will follow you, and we will arm ourselves at Castro. It is a sin that the arms should be lying there idle with so many hands ready to use them."
"That is good," Terence said. "Now, my first order is that you wait until I have been gone an hour; then, that you form up in military order, four abreast; the men with guns in front, the others after them. You must go as soldiers, and not as a mob. You must march into Castro peacefully and quietly, not a man must straggle from the ranks. You must go to the authorities and demand the arms and ammunition; if they refuse to give them to you, march--always in regular order--to the magazine and burst it open; then distribute the muskets and a hundred rounds of ammunition to each man having one, take the rest of the stores in carts, and then march away along the road north until you come to the place where we are halted.
"Observe the most perfect order in Castro. If any man plunders or meddles in any way with the inhabitants and is reported to me, I shall know how to punish him. From the moment that you leave this place remember that you are soldiers of Portugal, and you must behave so as to be an honour to it as well as a defence. Now let us all shout 'Viva Portugal!'"
A great shout followed the words, and then Terence went indoors, and five minutes later started with his convoy, telling the three prisoners they could go where they liked.