Chapter XXII. News from Home
 

A week after arriving at Abrantes, seeing that there was no probability whatever of fighting for a time, Terence had suggested to Herrara that it would be a good opportunity for him to run down to Lisbon for a few days to see his fiancee and his friends in the town.

"I don't know who you really ought to apply to for leave," he said, "but as we are a sort of half-independent corps, it seems the simplest way for me to take the responsibility. Nobody is ever likely to ask any questions about it; and now that it will simply be a matter of hard drill till the army moves again, you can be very well spared. If it is company work, it is the captain's business. If the two regiments are manoeuvring together, they will of course be under Bull and Macwitty, and I should be acting as brigadier."

"I should like to go very much," Herrara said. "I have not yet had the pleasure of introducing myself to my family and friends as a lieutenant-colonel. Of course, I wrote to my people when I received the commission from Lord Beresford; but it would be really fun to surprise some of my school-fellows and comrades, so if you think that it will not be inconvenient I should like very much to go."

"Then if I were you I should start at once. I will give you a sort of formal letter of leave in case you are questioned as you go down. You can get to Santarem to-night and to Lisbon to-morrow afternoon."

"Is there anything that I can do for you?"

"Yes; I wish you would ask Don Jose if he will, through his friends at Oporto, find out whether my cousin's mother was there at the time the French entered, and if she was, whether she got through that horrible business unhurt. I have been hearing about it from my friends, who were a couple of days there before the force marched to Braga. They tell me that, by all accounts, the business was even worse than we feared. The French came upon some of their comrades tied to posts in the great square, horribly mutilated, some of them with their eyes put out, still living, and after that they spared no one; and upon my word, I can hardly blame them, and in fact don't blame them at all, so long as they only their vengeance on men. The people made it worse for themselves by keeping up a desultory fire from windows and housetops when resistance had long ceased to be of any use; and, of course, seeing their comrades shot down in this way infuriated the troops still further.

"I don't suppose it will make the slightest difference in the world to my cousin whether her mother is dead or not, for I fancy from what Mary said that her mother never cared for her in the slightest. Possibly she was jealous that the child had the first place in the father's affections. However that may be, there was certainly no great love between them, and of course her subsequent treatment of my cousin destroyed any affection that might have existed. That either by some deed executed at the time of marriage, or by Portuguese law, Mary has a right to the estate at her mother's death, is clear from the efforts they made to get her to renounce that right. Still, there is no more chance of her ever inheriting it than there would be of her flying. As a nun she would naturally have to renounce all property, and no doubt the law of this priest-ridden country would decide that she had done so. She tells me--and I am sure, truly--that she refused to open her lips to say a single word when she was forced to go through the ceremony; but as, no doubt, a score of witnesses would be brought forward to swear that she answered all the usual questions and renounced all worldly possessions, that denial would go for nothing."

"Besides," Herrara said, "it would never do for her to set foot in Portugal. She would be seized as an escaped nun immediately, and would never be heard of again."

"I have no doubt that that would be so, Herrara; and as she has a nice fortune from her father, you may be sure that she will not trouble about the estates here, and her mother would be welcome to do as she likes with them, which is, after all, not unreasonable, as they are her property and descended to her from her father. Still, I should be glad to learn, if it does not give any great trouble, whether if, as is almost certain--for the people from all the country round took refuge there long before the French arrived--she was in Oporto, and if so, whether she got through the sack of the town unharmed. No doubt Mary would be glad to hear."

"I am sure Don Jose would be able to find out for you without any difficulty," Herrara said; "indeed I expect he will soon be going back there himself. Now that there is a British garrison in the town, that the bishop must be utterly discredited there, and a good many of his Junta must have been killed, while the rabble of the town has been thoroughly discomfited, the place will be more comfortable to live in than it has been for a long time past. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Nothing whatever."

A quarter of an hour later Herrara left for Lisbon, bearing many messages of kind regards on Terence's part to Don Jose and his family. Terence's last words were:

"By the way, Herrara, if you should be able to find at any store in Lisbon some Irish whisky, I wish you would get six dozen cases for me, or what would be more handy, a sixteen or eighteen gallon keg, and could get it sent on by some cart coming here, I should be very much obliged. It had better be sent to me, care of Colonel Corcoran, Mayo Fusiliers, Abrantes. I should like to be able to give a glass to my friends when they ride out to see me. But have the barrel or cases sewn up in canvas before the address is put on; I would not trust it to the escort of any British guard if they were aware of the nature of the contents. Wine would be safe with them, for they can get that anywhere, but it would be too much for the honesty of any Irishman if he were to see a cask labelled Irish whisky."

A week later Colonel Corcoran said when Terence rode in:

"By the bye, O'Connor, there is a cask of wine for you at my quarters; it was brought up by an ammunition train this morning. The officer said that a Portuguese colonel had begged him so earnestly to bring it up that he could not refuse."

"It was Herrara, no doubt, Colonel; he has gone down to Lisbon for a week."

"Ah! I suppose he sent you a keg of choice wine."

"You shall taste it next time you come out, Colonel. I have been wishing that I had something better than the ordinary wine of the country to offer when you come over to see me. I will send over a couple of men with a cart in the morning to bring it out to me."

On leaving that evening Terence invited all the officers who could get away from duty to come over to lunch the next day.

"Bring your knives and forks with you," he said; "and I think you had better bring your plates, too; I fancy four are all I can muster."

Early next morning Terence told Bull and Macwitty that he expected a dozen officers out to lunch with him. "And I want you to lunch with me too. I know that Captain O'Grady and others have asked you several times to go in and dine at mess, and that you have not gone. I hope to-day you will meet them at luncheon. I can understand that you feel a little uncomfortable at this first meeting with a lot of officers as officers yourselves; but, of course, you must do it sooner or later, and it would be much better doing so at once.

"The next thing is, what can I give them to eat? I should be glad if you will send out a dozen foraging parties in different directions; there must be little villages scattered among the hills that have so far escaped French and English plunderers. Let each party take four or five dollars with them. I want anything that can be got, but my idea is a couple of young kids, three or four ducks, or a couple of geese, as many chickens, and of course any vegetables that you can get hold of. My man Sancho is a capital cook, and he will get fires ready and two or three assistants. They will be here by one o'clock, so the foraging parties had better return by ten."

"If there is anything to be brought you shall have it, Colonel," Bull said; "Macwitty and I will both go ourselves, and we will get half a dozen of the captains to go too; between us it is hard if we don't manage to get enough."

By ten o'clock the officers rode in, almost every one of them having some sort of bird or beast hanging from his saddle-bow; there were two kids, a sucking pig, two hares, half a dozen chickens, three geese, and five ducks, while the nets which they carried for forage for their horses were filled with vegetables. Half a dozen fires had already been lighted, and Sancho had obtained as many assistants, so that by the time the colonel and fifteen officers rode up lunch was ready.

After chatting for a few minutes with them, Terence led the way to a rough table that was placed under the shade of a tree. Ammunition boxes were arranged along for seats. Although but a portion of what had been brought in had been cooked, the effect of the table was imposing.

"Why, O'Connor," the colonel said, "have you got one of the genii, like Aladdin, and ordered him to bring up a banquet for you? I have not seen a winged thing since we marched from Coimbra, and here you have got all the luxuries of the season. No wonder you like independent action, if this is what comes of it; there have we been feeding on tough ration beef, and here are the contents of a whole farmyard."

Almost all the officers had been out before, and Bull and Macwitty had been introduced to them. They now all sat down to the meal.

"I am sorry Major O'Driscol is not here," Terence said.

"He could not get away," the colonel said, from the other end of the table. "If the general had come round and there hadn't been a field-officer left to meet him there would have been a row over it. I have brought pretty nearly all the officers with me, and I dared not stretch it further."

"O'Grady," Terence said, "I wish you would carve this hare for me, I have no idea how it ought to be cut. I can manage a chicken, or a duck, but this is beyond me altogether."

"I will do it gladly, Terence; faith, it is a comfort to find that there is something you can't do." And so, with much laughter and fun, the meal was eaten.

"You have not told us yet where you got all these provisions, O'Connor," the colonel said; "it is too bad to keep all the good things to yourself."

"It has been the work of eight officers, Colonel; they rode off this morning in different directions among the hills, and there was not one of them who returned empty-handed."

"The wine is fairly good," the colonel said, as he set down his tin mug after a long draught, "but it was scarce worth sending all the way up from Lisbon."

"That has to follow, Colonel; I thought you would appreciate it better after you had done eating."

"I have not had such a male since we left Athlone," O'Grady said, when at last he reluctantly laid down his knife and fork. "Be jabers, it would be all up with me if the French were to put in an appearance now, for faith I don't think I could run a yard to save me life."

The tin mugs were all taken away and washed when the table was cleared.

"You are mighty particular, O'Connor," the colonel said.

"One mug is good enough for us. If we liquored-up a dozen times--which, by the way, we never do--one of these wines is pretty well like another, and if there was a slight difference it would not matter."

When the board was cleared a large jug was placed before Terence, and some water-bottles at various points of the table.

"I thought, Colonel, that you might prefer spirits even to the wine," Terence said.

"And you are right, O'Connor. A good glass of wine after a good dinner is no bad thing, but after such a meal as we have eaten I think that even this bastely spirit of theirs--which, after all, is not so bad when you get accustomed to it--is better than wine; it settles matters a bit."

Terence poured some of the spirit from a jug into his tin and filled it up with water. "Help yourself," he said, passing the jug to O'Grady, who sat next to him.

O'Grady was about to do so when he suddenly set the jug down.

"By the powers," he exclaimed, in astonishment, "but it is the real cratur!"

"Go on, O'Grady, go on, the others are all waiting while you are looking at it. If you feel too surprised to take it, pass the jug on."

O'Grady grasped it. "I will defind it wid me life!" he exclaimed. In the meantime the colonel had filled his mug.

"Gentlemen," he said, solemnly, after raising it to his lips, "O'Grady is right; it is Irish whisky, and good at that."

"It is a cruel trick you've played on us," O'Grady said, with a sigh, as he replaced the empty mug upon the table. "I had almost forgotten the taste, and had come to take kindly to the stuff here. Now I shall have to go through it all again. It is like holding the cup to the lips of that old heathen Tartarus, and taking it away again."

"Tantalus, O'Grady."

"Och, what does it matter, when he has been dead and buried thousands of years, how he spilt his name. Where did you get it from, Terence?"

"I asked Herrara to try and find some for me at Lisbon; I thought it was most likely that some English merchant there would have laid in a stock, and it seems that he has found one."

"Do you hear that, Colonel? There is whisky to be had at Lisbon, and us not know it."

"Well, Captain O'Grady, all I can say is that I shall at dinner this evening move a vote of censure upon you as mess president for not having discovered the fact before."

"Don't talk of dinner, Colonel; there is not one of us could think of sitting down to ration beef after such a male as we have had--and with whisky here, too! I move, Colonel, that no further mintion be made of dinner. I have no doubt that Terence will give us some divilled bones--there is as much left on the table as we have eaten--before we start home to-night."

"I will do that with pleasure. In fact, it is exactly what I reckoned upon," Terence replied.

"I think, O'Grady, we must send to Lisbon for some of this."

"Is it only think, Colonel? Faith, I would go down for it myself, if I had to walk with pays in my boots and to carry it back on me shoulders. Can I find Herrara there?" he asked.

"Yes, I can give you the address where he will be found."

"Anyhow, Colonel," O'Flaherty said, "I must--and I'm sure all present will join me in the matter--protest against Captain O'Grady going down to Lisbon to fetch whisky for the mess. You must know, sir, as well as I do, that he would never return again, and we should probably hear some day that his body had been found by the side of the road with three or four empty kegs beside him."

There was a general burst of agreement.

"Perhaps, Doctor O'Flaherty," O'Grady said, in a tone of withering sarcasm, "it's yourself who would like to be the messenger."

"There might be a worse one," O'Flaherty said, calmly; "but as I believe that Captain Hall is going down on a week's leave to-morrow, I propose that he, being an Englishman, and therefore more trustworthy than any Irish member of the mess would be on such a mission, be requested to purchase some for the use of the mess, and to escort it back again. How much shall I say, Colonel?"

"That is a grave matter, and not to be answered hastily, Doctor. Let me see, there are thirty-two officers with the regiment. Now, what would you say would be a fair allowance per day for each man?"

"I should say half a bottle, Colonel. There are some of them won't take as much, but O'Grady will square matters up."

"I protest against the insinuation," O'Grady said, rising; "and, moreover, I would observe, that it is mighty little would be left for me after each man had taken his whack."

"That is sixteen bottles a day. For a continuance I should consider that too much; but seeing that we have been out of dacent liquor for a month, and may have but a fortnight after it arrives to make up for lost time, we will say sixteen bottles."

"Make it three gallons," O'Grady said, persuasively; "we shall be having lots of men drop in when it gets known that we have got a supply."

"There is something in that, O'Grady. Well, we will say three gallons--that is, forty-two gallons for a fortnight. We will commission Captain Hall to bring back that quantity."

"If you say forty-five, Colonel, it will give us a drop in our flasks to start with, and we are as likely to be fifteen days as fourteen, anyway."

"Let it be forty-five then," the colonel assented. "Will you undertake that, Captain Hall?"

"Willingly, Colonel. I will get the whisky emptied into wine casks, and as I know one of the chief commissaries at Lisbon, I can get it brought up with the wine for the troops."

After sitting for a couple of hours, the colonel proposed that they should all go for a walk, while those who preferred it should take a nap in the shade.

"I move, O'Connor," he said, "that this meeting be adjourned until sunset."

"I think that will be a very good plan, Colonel."

The proposal was carried out. O'Grady and a few others declared that they should prefer a nap. The rest started on foot, and sauntered about in the shade of the wood for a couple of hours, then all gathered at the table again. At eight o'clock grilled joints of fowls and ducks were put upon the table, and at nine all mounted and rode back to Abrantes.

"How many of those quart jugs have been filled, Sancho?"

"Eight, sir."

"That is not so bad," Terence said to Macwitty. "That is twelve bottles; and as there were sixteen and our three selves, that is only about two bottles between three men."

"I call that vera moderate under the circumstances, Colonel," Macwitty said, gravely. "I have drank more myself many a time."

"They were a good many hours over it too," Terence added; "you may say it was two sittings. You will see that we shall have a great many callers from the camp for the next few days."

A fortnight later Terence received a letter from Don Jose, saying that he had heard from his friend at Oporto, and that they informed him that the Senora Johanna O'Connor had been killed at the sack of Oporto. She had left her own house and taken refuge at the bishop's. That place had been defended to the last, and when the infuriated French broke in, all within its walls had been killed.

Terence was not altogether sorry to hear the news. The woman had been a party to the cruel imprisonment of Mary. No doubt his cousin would feel her death, but her grief could not be very deep; and it was, he thought, just as well for her that her connection with Portugal should be altogether severed. Her mother might have endeavoured to tempt her to return there; and although he felt sure that she would not succeed in this, she might at least have caused some trouble, and it was better that there should be an end of it. As to the woman herself, she had been in agreement with the bishop, had been mixed up in his intrigues, and her death was caused by her misplaced confidence in him. Of course she had not known that he had left the town, and thought that under his protection she would be safe in the palace.

"She must have been a bad lot," he said to himself.

"Evidently she did not make her husband happy, and persecuted her daughter, and I regret her death no more than any other of the ten thousand people who fell in Oporto."

A few days later he received letters both from his father and Mary. Being under eighteen he opened the former first.

My Dear Terence,

I have heard all about you and your doings from Mary, and I am proud of you. It is grand satisfaction that you should have won your lieutenancy, and that you should be on the general's staff; as to your being a colonel, although only a Portuguese one, it is simply astounding. I don't care so much about the rank, for the Portuguese officers are poor creatures, not one in fifty of them knows anything of his duty; but what I do value is your independent command. That will give you opportunities for distinguishing yourself that can never fall in the way of a subaltern of the line, and I fancy, now that you have got Wellesley at the head, there will be plenty of such opportunities.

I was delighted, as you may guess, when I got Mary's letter from London. I had just settled at the old house, and mighty lonely I felt with no one to speak to, and the wind whistling in at the broken windows, and the whole place in confusion. So putting aside Mary, I was glad enough to have some excuse for running away. I took the next coach for Dublin; found, by good luck, a packet just sailing for London; and got there a week later. She is a nice girl and a pretty one; but I suppose I need not tell you that. I told her it was a poor place I was going to take her to, but she would be as welcome as the flowers in May; but she only laughed and said, that after being shut up for a year in a single room, and having nothing but bread and water, it would not matter a pin to her what it was like.

She was in a grand house, and Mrs. Nelson insisted on my putting up there. We stopped three days and then we took ship to Cork. We had to prove that the money lying there belonged to me; that is to say, that I was the person in whose name it had been put. I had all sort of botheration about it, but luckily I knew the colonel of the regiment there, and he went to the bank with me and testified. Then we came down here, and Mary hadn't been here a day before she began to spend money. I said I would not allow it; and she said I could not help it, the money was her own, and she could spend it as she liked, which was true enough; and at present the place is more topsy-turvy than ever.

I won't have anything to do with giving orders, but she has got a score of masons and carpenters over from Athlone, and she is turning the old place upside down. I sha'n't know it myself when she has done with it. There is not a place fit to sit down in, and we are living for the time at the inn at Kilnally, three miles away, and drive backwards and forwards to the house. Except that we quarrel over that, we get on first-rate together. She is never tired of talking about you, and when I hinted one day that it was ridiculous your being made a colonel, she spurred up like a young bantam, and more than hinted that if you had been appointed commander-in-chief instead of Sir Arthur it would not have been beyond your deserts.

My wound hurts me a bit sometimes, but I am able to get about all right, and the surgeon says in a few months I shall be able to walk as straight as anyone. And so, good-bye. I don't think I ever wrote such a long letter before, and as Mary will be telling you everything, I don't suppose I shall ever write such a long one again.

Terence laughed as he put the letter down and opened one from his cousin.

Dear Cousin Terence,

Here I am with your father as happy as a bird, and as free. I sing about the place all day, my heart is so light, and should be perfectly happy were it not that I am afraid that you will be fighting again soon, and then I shall be very anxious about you. Your father is just what I thought he would be from what I know of you. He is as kind as if he was my own father, and reminds me of him. You told me it was a tumbledown old place, and it is. When we came it was only fit for owls to live in, so, of course, I set to work at once. Your father was very foolish about it, but, of course, I had my way. What is the use of having money and living in an owl's nest? So I have set a lot of men to work.

Your father won't interfere with it one way or the other. I had a builder down, he shook his head over it and said that it would be cheaper to pull it down and build a new one; but as it was an old family house I could not do that. However, between ourselves, I don't think there will be much of the old one left by the time we have finished. It looks awful at present. I am building a new wall against the old one, so that it will look just the same, only it will be new. The windows are going to be made bigger, and there will be a new roof put on. Inside it will all have to come down, all the woodwork was so rotten that it was dangerous to walk upstairs. It is great fun looking after the workmen. And though your father does keep on grumbling and saying that I am destroying the old place, I don't think he really minds.

As I tell him, one could live in a house without windows nine months in the year in Portugal, but it is not so in Ireland. One wants comfort, Terence; and, as I have plenty of money, I don't see why we should not have it. You can sleep on the ground, and go from morning till night in wet clothes, when you are on a campaign, but that is no reason why you should do it at other times. The weather is fine here now, at least your father says it is fine, and I want to get everything pushed on and finished before it changes to what even he will admit is wet. The people here seem all very nice and pleasant. They are delighted at having your father back again. I drive about with him a great deal, and we call upon the neighbours, who all seem very pleased that the house is going to be occupied again.

The poor people seem very poor. I don't know that they are poorer than they are in Portugal, but I think they look poorer; but they don't seem to mind much. I have made great friends with most of the children already, and always go about with a large bag of sweetmeats in what your father calls "the trap." I think of you very often, Terence, and your father and I generally talk about you all the evening. By what he says you must have been a very naughty boy, indeed, before you became a soldier. Do take care of yourself. We shall be very, very anxious about you as soon as we hear that fighting has begun again. I hope you think very often of your very loving cousin,

MARY O'CONNOR.

"She will do a world of good to my father," Terence said to himself as he put down the letters. "After being so long in the regiment he would have felt being alone in that old place horribly, especially as it has, of course, been a terrible trial to him to be laid aside just as a big campaign is beginning. She will keep him alive, and he won't have any time to mope. Even if for no other reason, it is a lucky thing indeed that I was able to get Mary out. I sha'n't feel a bit anxious about him now."