With Moore At Corunna by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVIII. Mary O'Connor
Never was a large force of men driven from a very strong position, carefully prepared and defended by a vast number of guns, so quickly and easily as were the Portuguese before Oporto. The bishop, after rejecting Soult's summons and disregarding his prayers to save the city from ruin, suddenly lost heart, and after all his boasting, slipped away after dark to the Serra Convent, leaving the command to the generals of the army. The feint which Soult had made with Merle's division the night before against the Portuguese left succeeded perfectly, the Portuguese massing their forces on that side to resist the expected attack.
Soult's real intentions, however, were to break through the centre of the line and then to drive the Portuguese right and left away from the town, while he pushed a body of troops straight through the city to seize the bridge and thus cut off all retreat. Accordingly he commenced the attack on both wings. The Portuguese weakened their centre to meet these, and then the central division of the French rushed forward, burst through the intrenchments, and carried at once the two principal forts. Then two battalions marched into the town and made for the bridge, while the rest fell on the Portuguese rear. The French right carried in succession a number of forts, took fifty pieces of artillery, and drove off a great mass of the Portuguese from the town, while Merle met with equal success on the other flank. Half the Portuguese, therefore, were driven up the valley of the Douro, and the other half down towards the sea.
Maddened by terror, some of them strove to swim across, others to get over in small boats. Lima, their general, shouted to them that the river was too wide to swim, and that those who took to boats would be shot down by the pursuing French. Whereupon his own troops turned upon him and murdered him, although the French were but a couple of hundred yards away; they then renewed their attempt to cross, and many perished. Similar scenes took place in the valley above the town, but here the French cavalry interposed between the panic-stricken fugitives and the river, and so prevented them throwing away their lives in the hopeless attempt to swim across. In the meantime incessant firing was going on in the city. The French column arriving at the bridge, after doing their best to rescue the drowning people, sacrificed to the heartless cowardice of the Portuguese cavalry, speedily repaired the break caused by the sinking boats and prepared to cross the river, while others scattered through the town.
The inhabitants fired upon them from the roofs and windows, and two hundred men defended the bishop's palace to the last. Every house was the scene of conflict. The French on entering one of the principal squares found a number of their comrades, who had been taken prisoners and sent to the town, still alive but horribly mutilated, some of them having been blinded, others having legs cut off, and all mutilated in various ways. This terrible sight naturally goaded them to such a state of fury that Soult in vain endeavoured to stop the work of slaughter and pillage. This continued for several hours, and altogether the number of Portuguese who perished by drowning and slaughter in the streets was estimated at ten thousand, of which the number killed in the defence of the works formed but an insignificant portion.
Terence on his arrival at the camp in the wood resumed his uniform. Herrara had, on the previous day, purchased a light waggon and two horses for the use of the ladies, and as soon as the men had strapped on the cloaks and blankets which they had left behind them when they advanced to the defence of the bridge, the retreat began. Not until he had seen the column fairly on its way did Terence ride up to speak to the occupants of the waggon. He had not been introduced by Herrara to his friends, for on his return from his encounter with the bishop the ladies had already retired to their tent.
"I must introduce myself to you, Don Jose. I am Terence O' Connor, an ensign in his Britannic Majesty's regiment of Mayo Fusiliers and an aide-de-camp of General Cradock, a very humble personage, though at present in command of these troops--irregular regiments of the Portuguese army."
"Lieutenant Herrara has told us so much about you, Senor O'Connor, that we have been looking forward with much pleasure to meeting you. Allow me to present you to my wife and daughters, who have been as anxious as myself to meet an officer who has done such good services to the cause, and to whom it is due at the present moment that we are here, instead of being in the midst of the terrible scenes that are no doubt at this moment being enacted in Oporto."
Terence bowed deeply to the ladies, and then said to his cousin:
"I almost require introducing to you, for I caught but a glimpse of you as we crossed the river, and you look so different now that you have got rid of that hideous attire that I don't think that I should have known you."
"You have changed greatly, too, Senor O'Connor."
Terence burst into a laugh.
"My dear cousin, it is evident that you know very little of English customs, though you speak English so well. We don't call our cousins Mr. and Miss; you will have to call me Terence and I shall certainly call you Mary. Macwitty brought you back to camp all right?"
"Yes; but it was terrible to hear all that firing, and I was wondering all the time whether you were being hurt."
"There is a great deal of powder fired away to every one that gets hit."
"Do you know what has happened in the town?" Don Jose asked.
"I know no more than what my cousin has no doubt told you of that terrible scene at the bridge. It is evident that the French burst through the lines without any difficulty, as we saw no soldiers, except those cowardly cavalrymen, before the French arrived. It is probable that the intrenchments were carried in the centre, and Soult evidently sent a body of soldiers straight through the town to secure the bridge. I think he must have cut off the main body of the defenders of the intrenchments from entering the town and must either have captured them or driven them off. The fire of cannon had ceased over there before we retired, and it is clear from that that the whole of the intrenchments must have been captured. There was, however, a heavy rattle of musketry in the town, and I suppose that the houses, and perhaps some barricades, were being defended. It was a mad thing to do, for it would only excite the fury of the French troops, and get them out of hand altogether. If there had been no resistance the columns might have marched in in good order; but even then I fear there might have been trouble, for unfortunately, your peasants have behaved with such merciless cruelty to all stragglers who fell into their hands, that the thirst for vengeance would in any case have been irrepressible. Still, the officers might possibly have preserved order had there been no resistance."
"Shall we be pursued, do you think, senor?" Don Jose's wife asked.
"I do not think so. Possibly parties of horse may scour the country for some distance round, to see if there is a body of troops here, but we are too strong to be attacked by any but a very numerous body of horse; and if they should attempt it, you may be sure that we can render a very good account of ourselves. We have beaten off the French horse once, and, as since then we have had some stiff fighting, I have no fear of the men being unsteady, even if all Franceschi's cavalry came down upon us. Of that, however, there will be little chance; the French have their hands full for some days, and a few scouting parties are all that they are likely to send out."
"You speak Portuguese very well, Terence," Mary O'Connor said, in that language, hesitating a little before she used his Christian name.
"I have been nearly nine months in the country, during most of which I have been on the staff, and have had to communicate with peasants and others, and for the past two months I have spoken nothing else; necessity is a good teacher. Besides which, Lieutenant Herrara has been good enough to take great pains in correcting my mistakes and teaching me the proper idioms; another six months of this work and I have no doubt I shall be able to pass as a native."
After marching fifteen miles the column halted, Terence feeling assured that the French would not push out their scouting parties more than three or four miles from Villa Nova. They halted at the edge of a forest, and a party under one of the officers was at once despatched to a village two miles away, and returned in an hour with a drove of pigs that had been bought there, and a cart laden with bread and wine. Fires had already been lighted, and after seeing that the rations were divided among the various companies, Terence went to the tent. Herrara was chatting with his friends, and Mary O'Connor came out at once and joined him.
"That is right, Mary; we will take a stroll in the wood and have a talk together. Now tell me how you have got on. I had expected to find you quite thin and almost starving."
"No, I have had plenty of bread to eat," she laughed; "the sisters kept me well supplied. I am sure that most of them were sorry for me, and they used to hide away some of their own bread and bring it to me when they had a chance. The lady superior was very hard, and if I had had to depend entirely on what she sent me up I should have done very badly. I always ate as much as I could, as I wanted to keep up my strength; for I knew that if I got weak I might give way and do what they wanted, and I was quite determined that I would not, if I could help it."
"Macwitty told you, I suppose, how I came to hear where you were imprisoned?"
"Yes; he said that the officer had given you the letter that I dropped to him; yet how did he come to know that you were my cousin?"
"It was quite an accident; just the similarity of name. We were chatting, and he said, casually, 'I suppose that you have no relatives at Oporto,' and I at once said I had, for fortunately my father had been telling me about your father and you, the last time I saw him, that is four months ago. He was badly wounded at Vimiera and invalided home. Then Captain Travers told me about getting your letter and what was in it, and I felt sure that it was you, and of course made up my mind to do what I could to get you out, though at the time I did not think that I should be in Oporto until I entered with the British army."
"But I cannot think how you got us all to start, and walked along with the lady superior as if you were a friend of hers. Macwitty had not time to tell me that. I was so frightened and bewildered with the dreadful noise and the strangeness of it all that I could not ask him many questions."
"It was by virtue of this ring," he said, holding up his hand.
"Why," she exclaimed in surprise, "that is the bishop's! I noticed it on his finger when he came one day to me and scolded me, and said that I should remain a prisoner if it was for years until my obstinate spirit was broken. But how did you get it?"
"Not with the bishop's good-will, you may be sure, Mary," Terence laughed; and he then told her how he had become possessed of it.
The girl looked quite scared.
"It sounds dreadful, doesn't it, Mary, to think that I should have laid hands upon a bishop, and such a bishop, a man who regards himself as the greatest in Portugal. However, there was no other way of getting the ring, and I could not see how, without it, I could persuade the lady superior to leave her convent with you all; and to tell you the truth, I would rather have got it that way than any other. The bishop is, in my opinion, a man who deserves no respect. He has terrorized all the north of Portugal, has caused scores of better men than himself to be imprisoned or put to death, and has now by his folly and ignorance cost the lives of no one knows how many thousand men, and brought about the sack of Oporto."
"Did you hear anything of my mother?" the girl asked.
"No; my Portuguese was not good enough for me to ask questions without risking being detected as a foreigner at once. She has behaved shamefully to you, Mary."
"She never liked me," the girl said, simply. "She and father never got on well together, and I think her dislike began by his taking to me, and my liking to be with him and getting to talk English. There was a terrible quarrel between them once because she accused him of teaching me to be a Protestant, although he never did so. He did give me a Bible, and I used to ask him questions and he answered them, that was all; but as it did seem to me that he was much wiser in all things than she was, I thought that he might be wiser in religion too. I would have given up the property directly they wanted me to, if they would have let me go away to England; but when they took me to the convent and cut off my hair, and forced me to become a nun, I would not give way to them. I never took the vows, Terence; I would not open my lips, but they went on with the service just the same. I was determined that I would not yield. I thought that the English would come some day, and that I might be freed then."
"What would you have done in England if you had gone there, Mary?"
"I should have found your father out, and gone to him. Father told me that your father was his greatest friend, and just before he died he told me that he had privately sent over all his own money to a bank at Cork, and ordered it to be put in your father's name. It was a good deal of money, for he would not give up the business when he married my mother, though she wanted him to; but he said that he could not live in idleness on her money, and that he must be doing something. And I know that he kept up the house in Oporto, while she kept up her place in the country. He told me that the sum he had sent over was L20,000. That will be enough to live on, won't it?"
"Plenty," Terence laughed. "I had no idea that I was rescuing such an heiress. I was sure that there was no chance of your getting your mother's money, at any rate, as long as the bishop was leader of Oporto. However just your claim, no judge would decide in your favour."
"Now tell me about yourself, Terence, and your home in Ireland, and all about it."
"My home has been the regiment, Mary. My father has a few hundred acres in County Mayo, and a tumble-down house; that is to say, it was a tumble-down house when I saw it four years ago, but it had been shut up for a good many years, and I should not be surprised if it has quite tumbled down now. However, my father was always talking of going to live there when he left the army. The land is not worth much, I think. There are five hundred acres, and they let for about a hundred a year. However, my father has been in the regiment now for about eighteen years; and as I was born in barracks I have only been three or four times to Ballinagra, and then only because father took a fancy to have a look at the old house. My mother died when I was ten years old, and I ran almost wild until I got my commission last June."
"And how did you come to be a staff-officer of the English general?" she asked.
"I have had awfully good luck," Terence replied. "It happened in all sorts of ways."
"Please tell me everything," she said. "I want to know all about you."
"It is a long story, Mary."
"So much the better," she said. "I know nothing of what has passed for the last year, and I dare say I shall learn about it from your story. You don't know how happy I am feeling to be out in the sun and in the air again, and to see the country after being shut up in one room for a year. Suppose we sit down here and you tell me the whole story."
Terence accordingly related the history of his adventures since he had left England. The girl asked a great many questions, and specially insisted upon hearing his own adventures very fully.
"It is no use your keeping on saying that it is all luck," she said when he had finished. "Your colonel could not have thought that it was luck when he wrote the report about that adventure at sea, and your general could not have thought so, either, or he would not have praised you in his despatch. Then, you know, General Fane must have thought that it was quite out of the way or he would not have chosen you to be on his staff. Then afterwards the other general must have been pleased with you, or he would not have put you on his staff and sent you off on a mission to General Romana. It is quite certain that these things could not have been all luck, Terence. And anyhow, you cannot pretend that it was luck that this regiment of yours fought so well against the French, while none of the others seem to have fought at all. I suppose that you will say next that it was all luck that you got me out of the convent."
"There was a great deal of luck in it, Mary. If that cowardly bishop hadn't left Oporto secretly, after declaring that he would defend it until the last, I could never have got his ring."
"You would have got me out some other way if he hadn't," the girl said, with confidence. "No, Terence, you can say what you like, but I shall always consider that you have been wonderfully brave and clever."
"Then you will always think quite wrong," Terence said, bluntly.
"I shall begin to think that you are a tyrant, like the Bishop of Oporto, if you speak in that positive way. How old are you, sir?"
"I was sixteen six months ago."
"And I was sixteen three days ago," she said. "Fancy your commanding two thousand soldiers and only six months older than I am."
"It is not I, it is the uniform," Terence said. "They obey me when they won't obey their own officers, because I am on the English general's staff. They know that we have thrashed the French, and that their own officers know nothing at all about fighting, and they have no respect whatever for them. More than that, they despise them because they know that they are always intriguing, and that really, although they may be called generals, they are but politicians. You will see, when they get English officers to discipline them, they will turn out capital soldiers; but they think so little of their own, that if anything goes wrong their first idea is that their officers must be traitors, and so fall upon them and murder them.
"You look older than I do, Mary. You seem to me quite a woman, while, in spite of my uniform and my command, and all that, I am really only a boy."
"I suppose I am almost a woman, Terence, but I don't feel so. You see out here girls often marry at sixteen. I know father said once that he hoped I shouldn't marry until I was eighteen, and that he wanted to keep me young. I never thought about getting almost a woman until the bishop told me one day that if I chose to marry a senor that he would choose for me, he would get me absolution from my vows, and that I need not then resign my property."
"The old blackguard!" Terence exclaimed, angrily. "And what did you say to him?"
"I said that, in the first place, I had never thought of marrying; that in the second place, I had not taken any vows; and in the third place that when I did marry I would choose for myself. He got into a terrible rage, and said that I was an obstinate heretic, and that some day when I was tired of my prison I would think better of it."
"I would have hit the bishop hard if I had known about that," Terence grumbled. "If ever I fall in with him again I will pay him out for it. Well, anyhow, I may as well take off his ring; it might lead to awkward questions if anyone noticed it."
"I think that you had certainly better do so, Terence; it might cost you your life. The bishop is a bad man, and he is a very dangerous enemy. If he heard that an English officer was wearing an episcopal ring, and upon inquiring found that that officer had been in Oporto at its capture, he would know at once that it was you who assaulted him, and he would never rest until he had your life. You had better throw it away."
"All right, here goes!" Terence said, carelessly, and he threw the ring into a clump of bushes. "Now, Mary, it is getting dark, and I should think supper must be waiting for us."
"Yes, it is late; we have been a long while, indeed," the girl said, getting up hastily. "I forgot all about time."
"We are in plenty of time," Terence said, looking at his watch. "As we all had some cold meat for lunch as soon as we arrived, I ordered dinner at six o'clock, and it wants twenty minutes of that time now."
"It is shocking, according to our Portuguese ideas," she said, demurely, "for a young lady and gentleman to be talking together for nearly three hours without anyone to look after them."
"It is not at all shocking, according to Irish ideas," Terence said, laughing, "especially when the young lady and gentleman happen to be cousins."
They walked a short time in silence, then she said:
"I have obeyed you, Terence, and haven't uttered a word of thanks for what you have done for me."
"That shows that you are a good girl," Terence laughed.
"Good girls always do as they are told; at least they are supposed to, though as to the fact I never had any experience, for I have no sisters, and there were no girls in barracks; still, I am glad that you kept your promise, and hope that you will always do so. Being a cousin, of course it was natural that I should try to rescue you."
"And you would not if I hadn't been a cousin?"
"No, I don't say that. I dare say I should have tried the same if I had heard that any English or Irish girl was shut up here. I am sure I should if I had seen you beforehand."
She coloured a little at the compliment, and said, lightly: "Father told me once that Irishmen were great hands at compliments. He told me that there was some stone that people went to an old castle to kiss--I think that he called it the Blarney Stone--and after that they were able to say all sorts of absurd things."
"I have never kissed the Blarney Stone," Terence said, laughing. "If I wanted to kiss anything, it would be something a good deal softer than that."
They were now entering the camp, and in a few minutes they arrived at the tent.
"I began to think that you were lost, O'Connor," Herrara said, as they came up.
"We had a lot to talk about," Terence replied. "My cousin has been insisting upon my telling her my whole history, and all about what has passed here since she was shut up a year ago, and, as you may imagine, it was rather a long story."
A few minutes later they sat down on the ground to a meal in which roast pork was the leading feature.
"This is what we call in England a picnic, senora," Terence said to Don Jose's wife.
"A picnic," she repeated; "what does that mean? It is a funny word."
"I have no idea why it should be called so," Terence said. "It means an open-air party. The ladies are supposed to bring the provisions, and the gentlemen the wine. Sometimes it is a boating party; at other times they drive in carriages to the spot agreed upon. It is always very jolly, and much better than a formal meal indoors, and you can play all sorts of tricks."
"What sort of tricks, senor?"
"Oh, there are lots of them. I was always having fun before I became an officer. My father was one of the captains of the regiment, and I was generally in for any amusement that there was. Once at a picnic, I remember that I got hold of the salt-cellars and mustard-pots beforehand, and I filled up one with powdered Epsom salts, which are horribly nasty, you know, and I mixed the mustard with cayenne pepper. Nobody could make out what had happened to the food. They soon suspected the mustard, but nobody thought of the salt for a long time. The colonel was furious over it, but fortunately they could not prove that I had any hand in the matter, though I know that they suspected me, for I did not get an invitation to a picnic for a long time afterwards."
The three girls laughed, but Don Jose said, seriously: "But you would have got into terrible trouble if you had been found out, would you not?"
"I should have got a licking, no doubt, senor; but I was pretty accustomed to that, and it did not trouble me in any way. At any rate, it did not cure me of my love for mischief. I am afraid I never shall be cured of that. I used to have no end of fun in the regiment, and I think that it did us all good. It takes some thinking to work out a bit of mischief properly, and I suppose if one can think one thing out well, one can think out another."
"It seems to have succeeded well in your case, anyhow," Herrara laughed. "Perhaps if it had not been for your playing that trick at the picnic you would never have taken command of that mob, and we should never have gone to Oporto, and my friends and your cousin would be there now--that is, if they had not been killed."
"It may have had something to do with it," Terence admitted.
"And now, senor," Don Jose said, "which way are you going to take us?"
"We shall go straight on to Coimbra," Terence said, "unless we come upon a British force before that. Two long days' march will take us there. After that I must do as I am ordered; my independent command will come to an end there. I hope that I shall soon hear that my regiment has returned from England."
"And what is to become of me? I have not thought of asking," Mary O'Connor said.
"That must depend upon circumstances, Mary. If I go down to Lisbon, I hope that we shall all travel together, and I can then put you on board a transport returning to England. I am sure to find letters from my father there, telling me where he is and whether he is coming back with the regiment."
"We shall be very happy, senor," Don Jose said, courteously, "to take charge of the senora, until there is an opportunity for sending her to England. I have, of course, many friends in Lisbon, and shall take a house there the instant I arrive, and Donna O'Connor will be as one of my own family."
"I am extremely obliged to you, Don Jose. I have been wondering all day as I rode along what I should do with my cousin if, as is probable, I am obliged to stay at Coimbra until I receive orders from Lisbon. Your kind offer relieves me of a great anxiety. I think that it will be prudent for her to take another name while she is at Lisbon. There will certainly be no inquiries after her, for the lady superior of her convent will, of course, conclude that she was accidentally separated from the others in the crush, and that she was trampled on, or killed; and, indeed, there will be such confusion in Oporto that the loss of a nun more or less would fail to attract attention. At any rate, it is likely to be a long time before any report the lady superior will make to the bishop will reach him--months, perhaps, for she is not likely to take any particular pains to tell him news that would certainly anger him.
"Still, if he goes to Lisbon, as no doubt he will, and by any chance happens to hear that Miss O'Connor was one of those who had escaped from the sack of Oporto, he might make inquiries, and then all sorts of trouble might arise, even if he did not have her carried off by force, which would be easy enough in a place so disturbed as Lisbon at present is."
"I think that you are right, senor," Don Jose said, gravely. "At any rate it would be as well to avoid any risk. What name shall we call her?"
"You can call her Miss Dillon, senor, that is the name of an officer in our regiment."
"But the bishop might meet her in the street by chance; what then?"
"I don't think that he would know me," Mary O'Connor put in. "I have seen him, but I don't suppose that he ever noticed me until he saw me in my nun's dress, and, of course, I look very different now. Still, he is very sharp, and I will take good care never to go out without a veil."
"That will be the safest plan, Mary," Terence said, "though I don't think anyone would recognize you. Of course, he supposes that you are still snugly shut up in the convent; still, it is just as well not to run the slightest risk."
They made two long marches and reached Coimbra early on the third morning, bringing the first news that had been received there of the storming of Oporto. Terence at once reported himself to the commanding officer.
"I was wondering where these two regiments came from, Mr. O'Connor," the colonel said. "I watched them march in, and thought that they were the most orderly body that I have seen since we came out here. Whose corps are they?"
"Well, Colonel, they are my corps. I will tell you about it presently; it is a long story."
"How strong are they?"
"The field state this morning made them two thousand three hundred and fifty-five. They were two thousand five hundred to begin with; the rest are either killed or wounded."
"Oh, you have had some fighting then."
"We have had our share, at any rate, Colonel, and I think I can venture to say that no other Portuguese corps shows so good a record."
"We have a large number of tents in store, and I will order a sufficient number to be served out to put all your men under canvas, with the understanding that if the army advances this way the tents must be handed back to us. There are quantities of uniforms also. There have been ship-loads sent over for the use of the Portuguese militia, who were to turn out in their hundreds of thousands, but who have yet to be discovered. Would you like some of them?"
"Very much, indeed, Colonel. It would add very greatly to their appearance; though, as far as fighting goes, I am bound to say that I could wish nothing better."
"Really! Then all I can say is you have made a very valuable discovery. Hitherto the fighting powers of the Portuguese have been invisible to the naked eye. But if you have found that they really will fight under some circumstances, we may hope that, now Lord Beresford has come out to take command of the Portuguese army, and is going to have a certain number of British officers to train and command them, they will be of some utility, instead of being simply a scourge to the country and a constant drain on our purse."
"Have you heard that Oporto is captured, sir?"
"No, you don't say so!"
"Captured in less than an hour from the time that the first gun was fired."
"Just what I expected. When you have political bishops who not only pretend to govern a country, but also assume the command of armies, how can it be otherwise? However, you shall tell me about it presently. I will go down with you at once to the stores and order the issue of the tents and uniforms. My orders were that the uniforms were to be served out to militia and ordenancas; under which head do your men come?"
"The latter, sir; that is what they really were, but they hung the three men the Junta sent to command them, and placed themselves in my hands, and I have done the best I could with them, with the assistance of Lieutenant Herrara--who, as you may remember, accompanied me in charge of the escort--and my own two troopers and his men, and between us we have really done much in the way of disciplining them."
Two hours later the tents were pitched on a spot half a mile distant from the town. By the time that this was done the carts with the uniforms came up, to the great delight of the men.
"I have to go to the commandant again now, Herrara; let the uniforms be served out to the men at once. Tell the captains to see to their fitting as well as possible. I have no doubt that the colonel will come down to inspect them this afternoon, and will probably bring a good many officers with him, so we must make as good a show as possible."
Herrara's friends and Mary O'Connor had, on arriving at Coimbra, hired rooms, as Don Jose had determined to stay for a few days before going on, because his wife had been much shaken by the events that had taken place, and his eldest daughter was naturally anxious to wait until she knew whether Herrara would be able to return to Lisbon, or would remain with the corps. By the time Terence returned to the colonel's quarters it was lunch time.
"You must come across to mess, Mr. O'Connor," the commandant said. "Everyone is anxious to hear your news, and it will save your going over it twice if you will tell it after lunch. I fancy every officer in the camp will be there."