With Moore At Corunna by G. A. Henty
Chapter XIV. An Independent Command
As they left the village the Portuguese lieutenant burst into a sudden fit of laughter.
"What is it, Lieutenant?" Terence asked.
"I am laughing at the way in which you--who, as you tell me, have only been six months in the army--without hesitation organize what is really a rising against the authorities, you having already taken representatives of the Junta prisoners--"
"Yes; but you must remember that they took upon themselves to endeavour to forcibly possess themselves of the treasure in my charge."
"That is true enough; still, you did capture them. You treated them with considerable personal indignity, imprisoned them, and threatened their lives. Then you incite, say 2,500 ordenancas to break open magazines."
"No, no, Lieutenant, I did not incite them. You will remember they expressed a desire to march under my command to fight against the French. I simply pointed out to them that they had no arms, and asked if they could get any; and hearing that there were plenty lying useless a few miles away, suggested that those arms would do more good in their hands than stowed away in magazines. Upon their agreeing with me on this head, I advised them to proceed in a quiet and orderly way, and to have no rioting or disturbance of any sort. I said that if they, after arming themselves, came to me and still wished to follow me, I would undertake to command them. You see, everything depends upon the manner in which the thing is put."
"But you must remember, senor, that the Junta will naturally view the matter in the light in which their representatives will place it before them."
"I think it unlikely," Terence replied, "that they will have any opportunity of doing so. I took care that they were removed from the window before I met the deputies of the men. They will consequently be unaware of the arrangements made, and will, perhaps, go out as soon as we have left and try to persuade the men to follow and attack us. As it was possible that they might take this course, I took the precaution of sending out one of the muleteers, with instructions to mention casually to the men that I was leaving the three fellows behind me, and that it might be as well for them to confine them under a guard so as to prevent their going to Oporto at present and making mischief."
"I agree with you, senor, that they are certainly not likely to make any report as to the proceedings here."
"I fancy not; in fact I should not be at all surprised if at the present moment they are hanging from the windows of the house of the man they caused to be murdered. They will most richly deserve their fate, and it may save us some trouble. No doubt the Junta will hear some day that the ordenancas here rose, killed the three members of their committee, obtained arms at Castro, and marched into the mountains. The Junta will care nothing whatever for the killing of its three agents; plenty of men of the same kind can be found to do their work. That the mutineers afterwards fell in with a British officer, and placed themselves under his command, will not concern the Junta one way or the other, and they will certainly be a great deal more useful in that way than they would be in remaining unarmed here. They may even, when the French once get in motion, come to regard the affair altogether as satisfactory. If all the new levies were to act in exactly the same way, Portugal would be very materially benefited."
"But how are you going to feed them?"
"That is rather a serious question. I suppose they will have to be fed in the same way as other irregular bands. However, I shall consider myself fully justified in devoting a fifth of the money I am carrying to that purpose. I obtained from Villiers L5,000 to enable Romana to support the levies he is raising. Those levies will be for the most part unarmed, and therefore practically useless; and as these Portuguese will be at any rate fairly armed, and are likely to be of very much greater service than a horde of Galician peasants, a portion at least of the money can be very much more usefully employed in feeding them than were it all given to Romana, I have no doubt whatever that when I explain the circumstances to General Cradock, he will entirely approve of my appropriating a small portion of the money that Villiers has chosen to throw away on Romana. When you return I shall get you to carry a report from me to the general, stating what I have done. I have no doubt he will warmly approve of it."
On approaching Castro they made a detour to avoid the town.
"There may be more representatives of the Junta there," Terence said, "and we may have even more trouble with them than we had with the last. I don't want any more bother, especially as I have much greater interest in the money now than I had before. I have not a shadow of belief in those bands of Portuguese peasants, but I do think that, with the aid of my two troopers, I shall be able to lick these fellows into some sort of shape, and to annoy Soult, if I cannot stop him. I hope they will find a good supply of powder, besides the muskets and ammunition at Castro; we shall want it for blowing up bridges and work of that sort."
"I wish I could go with you," Herrara said.
"I really don't see why you should not. I would take the blame on my own shoulders. One of your troopers could carry my report to the general, and I will say that under the circumstances I have taken upon myself to retain you with me in order to assist me in drilling and organizing this band, conceiving that your services with me would be very much more useful than with your regiment. You see, you were placed under my orders, so that no blame can fall upon you for obeying them, and at any rate you certainly will be doing vastly better service to the country than if you were stationed at Lisbon, with no prospect of an advance for a long time to come. Still, of course, I will not retain you against your will."
"I should like it of all things," Herrara said; "but do you really think that the general would approve?"
"I have not the least doubt that he would, and at any rate if he did not he would only blame me, and not you. Your help would certainly be invaluable to me, and so would that of your men. They are all picked soldiers, and if we divided the force up into twelve companies, they would very soon teach them as much drill as is necessary for work like this. Each trooper would command one of the companies, my two orderlies would act as field officers; you would be colonel, and I should be political officer in command."
Herrara burst into a fit of laughter.
"You are the strangest fellow I ever met, senor. Here is a very serious business, and you take it as easily as if it were a game of play. However, it does seem to me that we might do some good service. At any rate I am quite willing to obey your orders. It would be an adventure to talk of all one's life."
"That is right," Terence said; "and there will be some credit to be gained, too. Indeed, we can safely say that our band will be very much better organized than nineteen out of twenty of the irregular bands."
The track they followed was a very bad one, and the point at which they regained the main road was eight miles north of Castro. There was a small village here, and they at once halted. Although they had travelled slowly they knew that the men could not come along for some time, as they were not to start until an hour after them, and would be detained for some considerable time at Castro. It was indeed nearly three hours before a column marching in good order was seen coming along the road.
"That is a good sign," Terence said; "they have obeyed orders strictly; whether they have got the arms I cannot tell yet. The men at the head of the column have certainly muskets, but as the armed men were to go in front that is no proof."
However, as the column approached, it could be seen that at any rate a very considerable number were armed.
"We had better form them up as they come, Herrara. If the head of the column stops it will stop them all, and then there will be confusion."
The road through the village was wide. When a hundred ranks had passed they were halted, faced round, and marched forward, and so they continued until the village was filled with a dense mass of men, twenty deep. Terence observed with satisfaction that they had with them six bullock carts filled with ammunition-cases, spare muskets, and powder-barrels. The men who had first spoken to Terence had headed the column, and these had stopped by his side as the others marched in.
"You have succeeded, I see," he said. "I hope that you were enabled to accomplish it without violence."
"They were too much surprised to offer much resistance. Five fellows, who said they were the committee appointed by the Junta, came to us and told us that unless we dispersed at once we should be severely punished. We told them that we had come out of our homes at the orders of the Junta, but that as the Junta had not supplied us with arms we had come for them, as we were not going to fight the French with nothing but sticks. They then threatened us again, and we told them that if they hindered us from defending the country we should hang them at once; and as they saw we meant it, they went quietly off to their houses. Then we broke down the door of the magazine. We found four thousand muskets there. Each man took one, and we left the remainder and enough ammunition for them, and have brought the rest here, together with a hundred spare muskets.
"We have observed excellent order, and no one was hurt or alarmed. The only men who left the ranks were a score who went round to the bakers' shops by my orders, and bought up all the bread in the place. We found a bag with a thousand dollars at the quarters of Cortingos."
"What became of him and his two associates?"
"They had the impudence to come out and harangue us when you had gone; but we tied them up to the branch of a tree, so there is an end of them."
"And a very fitting end, too," Terence said. "What have you done with the money?"
"The bag is in that cart, senor."
"You had better appoint four of your number as treasurers. I would rather not touch it. You must be as careful as you can, and spend it only on the barest necessaries of life. We shall have few opportunities of buying things in the mountains, but when we do come upon them they must be paid for. Of course, we shall go no farther to-night. How many men have you?"
"About two thousand five hundred, senor."
"They must be told off into twelve companies. That will be two hundred and ten to each company. I shall appoint one of these soldiers to each company to drill and command it. I propose that each company shall elect its other officers. Lieutenant Herrara will, under my orders, command the regiment. The two English soldiers with me will each take command of six companies. The first thing to be done is to tell off the men into companies."
"This we will at once do. After that they can be marched just outside the village, and each company will then fall out and elect its officers. When that is done the men will be quartered in the village. I have set apart one room in each house for the inhabitants, and the men must pack as tightly as they can into the others; and of course the sheds and stables must also be utilized."
With the assistance of the troopers the work of dividing the force up into companies was accomplished in an hour. Herrara then called his men to him.
"You will each take the command of a company," he said, "and drill them and teach them the use of their arms. This force is now under the command of this British officer. Acting under his orders, I take the command of the force under him. So long as we are out you will each act as captains of your companies, and your British comrades will act as field officers, each taking the command of six companies. We are going to hinder the advance of the French, and to cut their communications with Spain. It will be a glorious and most honourable duty, and I rely most implicitly on your doing your best to make the men under your command fit to meet the enemy. Captain Juan Sanches, you will take the first company;" and so he allotted to each his command.
The soldiers saluted gravely, but with an air of delight.
"You will, in the first place, march your men to various spots around the village; they will then fall out and select six officers each. You will see that each man knows the number of his company, so that they can fall in without hesitation as soon as the order is given. While you are away we shall examine the houses and allot so many to each company."
In the meantime Terence had been similarly instructing the two orderlies. Although standing at attention, a broad grin of amusement stole over their faces as he went on:
"I did not expect this any more than you did," he said; "but my orders were open ones, and were to assist General Romana in hindering the advance of the French, and I think that I cannot do so better than by augmenting his forces by 2,500 well-armed men. I rely greatly upon you to assist me in the work. You will, as you see, each occupy the position of field officers, while the Portuguese troopers will each have the command of a company. In order to support your authority I shall address you each as major, and you can consider that you hold that rank as long as we are out with this force. I have seen enough of you both to know that you will do your duty well. You will understand that this is going to be no child's play; it will be a dangerous service. I shall spare neither myself nor any under my command. There will be lots of fighting and opportunities for you to distinguish yourselves, and I hope that I shall be able to speak in high terms of you when I send in my report to General Cradock."
"We will do our best, sir," Andrew Macwitty said. "How are we to address you?"
"I shall keep to Mr. O'Connor, and shall consider myself a political officer with supreme military authority. Your titles are simply for local purposes, and to give you authority among the Portuguese."
"We don't know enough of the lingo to give the words of command, sir," William Bull said.
"That will not matter. The Portuguese dragoons will teach them as much drill as it is necessary for them to know. If you have to post them in a position you can do that well enough by signs; but at the same time it is most desirable that you should both set to work in earnest and try to pick up a little of the language. You both know enough to make a start with, and if you ride every day with one or other of the captains of companies, and when they are drilling the men stand by and listen to them, you will soon learn enough to give the men the necessary orders. As a rule, the two wings will act as separate regiments; each of them is rather stronger than that of a line regiment at its full war strength, and it will be more convenient to treat them as separate regiments, and, until we get to the frontier, march them a few miles apart.
"In this way they can occupy different villages, and obtain better accommodation than if they were all together. They have money enough to buy bread and wine for some time. You and the captains under you had better each form a sort of mess. You will, of course, draw rations of bread and wine, and I will provide you with money to buy a sheep occasionally or some fowls, to keep you in meat."
The two troopers walked gravely away, but as soon as they were at a little distance they turned round the corner of a house and burst into a shout of laughter.
"How are you finding yourself to-day, Major Macwitty?"
"Just first-rate; and how is yoursel', Major Bull?" and they again went off into another shout of laughter.
"This is a rum start, and no mistake, Macwitty."
"Ay, but it is no' an unpleasant one, I reckon. Mr. O'Connor knows what he is about, though he is little more than a laddie. The orderly who brought our orders to go with him, said he had heard from one of the general's mess waiters that the general and the other officers were saying the young officer had done something quite out of the way, and were paying him compliments on it, and the general had put him on his own staff in consequence, and was saying something about his having saved a wing of his regiment from being captured by the French. The man had not heard it all; but just scraps as he went in and out of the room with wine, but he said it seemed something out of the way, and mighty creditable. And now what do you think of this affair, Bull?"
"There is one thing, and that is that there is like to be, as he said, plenty of fighting, for I should say that he is just the sort of fellow to give us the chance of it, and I do think that these Portuguese fellows really mean to fight."
"I think that mysel', but there is no answering for these brown-skin chaps. Still, maybe it is the fault of the officers as well as the men."
"It will be a rare game anyhow, Macwitty. At any rate I will do my best to get the fellows into order. He is a fine young officer, and a thorough gentleman, and no mistake. He goes about it all as if he had been accustomed to command two regiments all his life, and these Portuguese fellows seem to have taken to him wonderfully. At any rate it will be a thing for us to talk about all our lives--how we were majors for a bit, and fought the French on our own account."
"Yes, if we get home to tell about it," Macwitty said, cautiously. "I dinna think we can reckon much on that yet. It is a desperate sort of a business, and he is ower young to command."
"I would rather have a young officer than an old one," Bull said, carelessly; "and though he is Irish, I feel sure that he has got his head screwed on the right way. Look how well he managed last night. Why, an old general could not have done better. If he hadn't caught those three fellows in a trap, I doubt whether we should have got out of the scrape. Sixteen or seventeen men against over two thousand is pretty long odds. We should have accounted for a lot of them, but they would have done for us in the end."
"You are right there, Bull. I thought mysel' that it was an awkward fix, and certainly he managed those Portuguese fellows well, and turned the lot round his little finger. Ay, ay; he knows what he is doing perfectly well, young as he is."
"Well, we had best be off to look after our commands,"
Bull laughed. "I suppose they will call mine the first regiment, as I have the right wing."
While the men were away, Terence and Herrara, with the head man of the village, went round to all the houses, and marked on pieces of paper the number of men who could manage to lie down on the floors and passages, with the number of the company, and fixed them on the doors; they also made an arrangement with the proprietor of a neighbouring vineyard to supply as much wine as was required, at the rate of a pint to each man. When the men returned four men were told off from each company to fetch the rations of bread, and another four to carry the wine. They were accompanied by one of the newly elected sergeants to check the quantity, and see that all was done in order. To prevent confusion the companies were kept drawn up until the rations had been distributed; then they were taken into their quarters, filling every room, attic and cellar, barn, granary, and stable in the village. Then Terence and Herrara in one room, and the troopers in another of the little inn, sat down to a meal Terence had ordered as soon as they arrived.
The next morning at daybreak they marched off. Terence rode at their head, Herrara at the rear of the regiment, and each captain at the head of his company. From time to time Terence rode up and down the line, and ordered the men to keep step.
"It is just as easy," he said to the captains, "for the men to do so as to walk along anyhow, and they will find that the sound of all the footfalls together helps them to march steadily and lessens fatigue. Never mind about the slope of their muskets; you must not harass them about little things, else they will get sulky; it will all come gradually."
Four marches of twenty miles each took them over the mountains in four days. The Portuguese marched well, and not a single man fell out from the ranks, while at the end of the day they were still fresh enough to allow of an hour's drill. Even in that short time there was a very appreciable difference in their appearance. They had already learned to keep their distances on the march, to slope their muskets more evenly on their shoulders, and to carry themselves with a more erect bearing. The first two drills had been devoted to teaching them how to load and aim, the other two to changes of formation, from column into line and back again.
"They would make fine soldiers, sir," Bull said, on the fourth evening, "after they have had six months' drill."
"No doubt they would move more regularly," Terence agreed, "but in mountain warfare that makes little difference; as soon as they have learned to shoot straight, and to have confidence in themselves, they will do just as well holding a defile or the head of a bridge as if they had been drilled for months. We must get hold of some horns of some sort, and they must learn a few simple calls, such as the advance, retire, form square, and things of that sort. With such large companies the voice would never be heard in the din of a battle. I hope that we shall get at least a week to practise skirmishing over rough ground and to fall back in good order, taking advantage of every rock and shelter, before we get under fire. Do you know anything about blowing up bridges?"
"Not me, sir. That is engineers' business."
"It is a thing that troopers ought to know something about too, Bull; for if you were far in advance without an engineer near you, you might do good service by blowing up a bridge and checking the advance of an enemy. However, I dare say we shall soon find out how it is best done. Now, to-morrow morning we will have three hours of skirmishing work on these hillsides. By that time the other regiment will have come up, and then we will march together to join Romana."
The Spanish general was much surprised at the arrival of Terence at the head of two well-armed regiments. His force had swelled considerably in point of numbers, for he had sent messengers all over the country to the priests, and these, having a horror of the French, had stirred up the peasants by threats of eternal perdition if they came back; while Romana issued proclamations threatening death to all who did not take up arms. Thus he had some 8,000 men collected, of whom fully half were his own dispersed soldiers. He received Terence with effusion.
"Have you brought me arms?" was his first question.
"No, sir; no transport could be obtained in Lisbon, and it was found impossible to despatch any muskets to you. I have, however, four thousand pounds, in dollars, to hand over. At starting I had five thousand, but of these I have, in the exercise of my discretion, retained a thousand for the purchase of provisions and necessaries for these two Portuguese regiments which are under my command, and with which I hope to do good service by co-operating with your force. Have you not found great difficulty in victualling your men?"
"No, I have had no trouble on that score," the marquis said. "I found that a magazine of provisions had been collected for the use of General Moore's army at Montrui, three miles from here, and have been supporting my troops on the contents. The money will be most useful, however, directly we move. Fully half of my men have guns, for the Galician peasants are accustomed to the use of arms. I wish that it had been more, but four thousand pounds will be very welcome. Do you propose to join my force with your regiments?"
"Not exactly to join them, General; my orders are to give you such assistance as I can, and I think that I can do more by co-operating with you independently. In the first place, I do not think that my Portuguese would like to be commanded by a Spanish general; in the second place, it would be extremely difficult to feed so large a body of troops in these mountains, and the smaller the number the more easily can they move about. Besides, in these defiles a large force of undisciplined men could not act efficiently, and in case of a reverse would fall rapidly into confusion. I propose to use my force as a sort of flying column, co-operating with yours. Thus, if you attack the head of a column, I will fall on their flank or rear, will harass their line of communication, blow up bridges and destroy roads, and so render their movements slow and difficult. By such means I should certainly render you more efficient service than if my regiments were to form a part of your force."
"Perhaps that would be best," Romana said. "Could you supply me with any ammunition? For although the peasants have guns, very few have more than a few rounds of ammunition, and even this is not made up into cartridges."
"That I can do, sir. I can give you 20,000 rounds of ammunition and ten barrels of powder. I have no lead, but you may perhaps be able to obtain that."
"Yes. The priests, in fact, have sent in a considerable amount. They have stripped the roofs off their churches. That will be a most welcome supply indeed, and I am heartily obliged to you."
The gift of the ammunition had the effect of doing away with any discontent the Spaniard may have felt on finding that Terence was going to act independently of him. It had indeed already flashed across his mind that it might be unpleasant always to have a British officer with him, from whose opinion he might frequently differ, and who might endeavour to control his movements. He had hardly expected that, with so much on their hands, and the claims that would be made from Oporto for assistance, they would have sent any money; and the sixteen thousand dollars were therefore most welcome, while the ammunition would be invaluable to him.
Terence had taken out his share of the money, and the cart with the remainder for Romana was now at the door. The sacks were brought in, Romana called in four or five officers, the dollars were counted out and a receipt given to Terence for them.
"I will send the ammunition up in half an hour, Marquis."
"I thank you greatly, senor. I will at once order a number of men to set to work casting bullets and preparing cartridge-cases. In the meantime, please let me hear what are your general's plans for the defence of Portugal."
Terence told him that he was unaware what were the intentions of the British general, but that, from what he learned during the few hours that he was at Lisbon, he thought it improbable in the extreme that Sir John Cradock would be able to send any force to check the advance of the French upon Oporto.
"In the first place," he said, "he is absolutely without transport; and in the second Victor has a large army, and now that Saragossa has fallen, there is nothing to prevent his marching direct upon Lisbon. Lapisse is at Salamanca and can enter Portugal from the east. The whole country is in confusion; with the exception of a force gathering under Lord Beresford there is no army whatever. Lisbon is almost at the mercy of the mob, who, supported by the government, march about with British muskets and pikes, killing all they suspect of being favourable to the French, and even attacking British soldiers and officers in the streets.
"Were the general to march north, he would not get news of Victor's advance in time to get back to save Lisbon, therefore I fear that it is absolutely impossible for him to attempt to check the French until they cross the Douro, perhaps not until they cross the Mondego. The levies of the northern province are ordered to assemble at Villa Real, and I believe, from what I gathered on the march, that some thousands of men are there, but I doubt very greatly whether they are in a state to offer any determined resistance to Soult."
"That is a bad look-out," the general said, gloomily; "still, we must hope for the best, as Spain will soon raise fresh armies, and so occupy the attention of the enemy that Soult will have to fall back. I am in communication with General Silveira, who will advance to Chaves; he has four thousand men. He has written to me that the bishop had collected 50,000 peasants at Oporto."
"Where they will probably do more harm than good," Terence said, scornfully. "I would rather have half a regiment of British troops than the whole lot of them. It is not men that are wanted, it is discipline, and 50,000 peasants will be even more unmanageable and useless than 5,000 would be. By the way, General, I have now to inform you that General Cradock has done me the honour of placing me on his personal staff."
"I am glad to hear it," the marquis said, courteously; "it will certainly increase your authority greatly."
Terence, leaving Romana, marched his troops to within a mile of Monterey, choosing a spot where there was a wood which would afford some shelter to the troops, and would give them a supply of firewood. At Monterey he would be able to purchase provisions, and he wished to keep them apart from Romana's men, whose undisciplined habits and general insubordination would counteract his efforts with his own men.
The next ten days were spent in almost incessant drilling, and in practising shooting. Bread and wine were obtained from Monterey, and he purchased a large flock of sheep at a very low price, the peasants, in their fear of the French, being very anxious to turn their flocks and herds into money, which could be hid away securely until the tide of invasion had passed. Laborious and frugal in their habits, these peasants seldom touch meat, and the troops were highly gratified at the rations supplied to them, and worked hard and cheerfully at their drill.
Among so many men there were naturally a few who were inclined to be insubordinate. These were speedily weeded out. The offenders were promptly seized, flogged, and expelled from the force, their places being supplied from among the peasants, many of whom were desirous of enlisting. Terence sent these off, save a few he selected, to Silveira, as his own force was quite as large as could properly be handled. With improved food and incessant drill the men rapidly developed into soldiers. Each carried a rough native blanket rolled up like a scarf over one shoulder. This was indeed the only point of regular equipment. They had no regular uniform, but they were all in their peasant dresses. There was no communication between them and Romana's forces, for the animosity between the two peoples amounted to hatred. The Portuguese would indeed have marched to attack them as willingly as they would have received the order to move against the French.
During this week of waiting, Silveira with 4,000 men arrived at Chaves, and a meeting took place between him and Romana. Both had plans equally wild and impracticable, neither would give way, and as they were well aware that their forces would never act together, they decided to act independently against the French. At the end of eight days the news came that Soult, having made all his preparations, had left Orense on his march southward.
Terence had bought a quantity of rough canvas, and the men, as they sat round the fires after their day's work was over, made haversacks in which they could carry rations for four or five days. As soon as the news was received that Soult was advancing, Terence ordered sufficient bread to supply them for that time, from the bakehouses of Monterey. A hundred rounds of ball-cartridge were served round to each. A light cart containing eight barrels of powder, a bag with 1,000 dollars, and the tent, was the only vehicle taken, and the rest of the ammunition and powder was buried deep in the wood, and the bulk of the money privately hidden in another spot by Terence and Herrara. Twelve horns had been obtained; several of the men were able to blow them, and these, attached one to each company, had learned a few calls. Terence and Herrara took their post at the edge of the wood to watch the two regiments march past.
"I think they will do," Terence said; "they have picked up marvellously since they have been here; and though I should not like to trust them in the plain with Franceschi's cavalry sweeping down upon them, I think that in mountain work they can be trusted to make a stand."
"I think so," Herrara agreed. "They have certainly improved wonderfully. Our peasants are very docile and easily led when they have confidence in their commander, and are not stirred up by agitators, but they are given to sudden fury, as is shown by the frightful disorders at Lisbon and Oporto. However, they certainly have confidence in you, and if they are successful in the first skirmish or two they can be trusted to fight stoutly afterwards."