With Moore At Corunna by G. A. Henty
Chapter VI. A Pause
The Mayo Fusiliers had suffered their full proportion of losses at the battle of Vimiera. Major Harrison had been killed, Captain O'Connor had been severely wounded, as his company had been thrown forward as skirmishers on the face of the hill, and a third of their number had fallen when Laborde's great column had driven them in as it charged up the ascent. Terence's father had been brought to the ground by a ball that struck him near the hip; had been trampled on by the French as they passed up over him, and again on their retreat; and he was insensible when, as soon as the enemy retired, a party was sent down to bring up the wounded. By the death of the major, O'Connor, as senior captain, now attained that rank, but the doctor pronounced that it would be a long time before he would be able to take up his duties. Another captain and three subalterns had been killed, and several other officers had been wounded. Among these was O'Grady, whose left arm had been carried away below the elbow by a round shot. As Terence was in the other wing of the regiment he did not hear of his father's wounds until after the battle was over, and on the order being given that there was to be no pursuit the regiment fell out of its ranks. As soon as the news reached him he obtained permission to go down to Vimiera, where the church and other buildings had been turned into temporary hospitals, to which the seriously wounded had been carried as soon as the French retired. Hurrying down, he soon learned where the wounded of General Fane's brigade had been taken. He found the two regimental doctors hard at work. O'Flaherty came up to Terence as soon as he saw him enter the barn that had been hastily converted into a hospital by covering the floor deeply with straw.
"I think your father will do, Terence, my boy," he said, cheeringly; "we have just got the bullet out of his leg, and we hope that it has not touched the bone, though we cannot be altogether sure. We shall know more about that when we have got through the rough of our work. Still, we have every hope that he will do well. He is next the door at the further end; we put him there to let him get as much fresh air as possible, for, by the powers, this place is like a furnace!"
Captain O'Connor was lying on his back, the straw having been arranged so as to raise his shoulders and head. He smiled when Terence came up to him.
"Thank God you have got safely through it, lad!"
"I should not have minded being hit, father, if you had escaped," Terence said, with difficulty suppressing a sob, while in spite of his efforts the tears rolled down his cheeks.
"The doctors say I shall pull through all right. I hear poor Harrison is killed; he was a good fellow. Though it has given me my step, I am heartily sorry. So we have thrashed them, lad; that is a comfort. I was afraid when they went up the hill that they might be too much for us, and I was delighted when I heard them coming tearing down again, though I had not much time to think about it. They had stepped over me pretty much as they went up, but they had no time to pick their way as they came back again, and after one or two had jumped on me, I remembered no more about it until I found myself here with O'Flaherty probing the wound and hurting me horribly. I am bruised all over, and I wonder some of my ribs are not broken; at present they hurt me a good deal more than this wound in the hip. Still, that is only an affair of a day or two. Who have been killed besides the major?"
"Dorman, Phillips, and Henderson are killed. O'Grady is wounded, I hear, and so are Saunders, Byrne, and Sullivan; there have been some others hit, but not seriously; they did not have to fall out."
"O'Grady is over on the other side somewhere, Terence; I heard his voice just now. Go and see where he is hurt."
O'Grady was sitting up with his back to the wall; the sleeves of his jacket and shirt had been cut off, and a tourniquet was on his arm just above the elbow.
"Well, Terence," he said, cheerfully, "I am in luck, you see."
"I can't see any luck about it, O'Grady."
"Why, man, it might have been my right arm, and where should I have been then? As to the left arm, one can do without it very well. Then, again, it is lucky that the ball hit me below the elbow and not above it. O'Flaherty says they will be able to make a dacent job of it, and that after a bit they will be able to fit a wooden arm on, so that I can screw a fork into it. The worst of it at present is, that I have a terrible thirst on me, and nothing but water have they given me, a thing that I have not drunk for years. They have tied up the arteries, and they are going presently to touch up the loose ends with hot pitch to stop the bleeding altogether. It is not a pleasant job; they have done it to three or four of the men already. One of them stood it well, but the others cried a thousand murders. O'Flaherty has promised me a drink of whisky and water before they do it, and just at present I feel as if I would let them burn all my limbs at the same price. It is sorry I am, Terence, to hear that your father is hit so hard, but O'Flaherty says he will get through it all right. Well, he will get his majority, though I am mightily sorry that Harrison is killed; he was a good boy, though he was an Englishman. Ah, Terence, my heart's sore when I think what I said that evening after the fight at Rolica! I did not mean it altogether, but the words come home to me now. It is not for meself but for the poor boys that have gone. It was just thoughtlessness, but I would give me other arm not to have said those words."
"I know that you did not mean it, O'Grady, and we were all feeling sorry that the regiment had not had a chance to be in the thick of it."
"Here they are, coming this way with the pitch kettle. You had better get away, lad, before they begin."
Terence was glad to follow the advice, and hurried out of the barn and walked three or four hundred yards away. He was very fond of O'Grady, who had always been very kind to him, and who was thoroughly warm-hearted and a good fellow, in spite of his eccentricities. In a quarter of an hour he returned. Just as he was entering, O'Flaherty came out of the door.
"I must have a breath of fresh air, Terence," he said. "The heat is stifling in there, and though we are working in our shirt-sleeves we are just as damp as if we had been thrown into a pond."
"Has O'Grady's arm been seared?"
"Yes, and he stood it well; not a word did he say until it was over. Then he said, 'Give me another drink, O'Flaherty; it's wake-like I feel.' Before I could get the cup to his lips he went off in a faint. He has come round now and has had a drink of weak whisky and water, and is lying quiet and composed. It is better that you should not go near him at present. I hope that he will drop off to sleep presently. I have just given a glance at your father, and he is nearly, if not quite, asleep too, so you had better leave them now and look in again this evening. Now that the affair is over, and there is time to go round, they will clear out some houses and get things more comfortable. The principal medical officer was round here half an hour ago. He said they would fit up rooms for the officers at once, and I will have your father, O'Grady, and Saunders carried up on stretchers and put into a room together. If they can bear the moving it will be all in their favour, for it will be cooler there than in this oven of a place. I hear the church has been requisitioned, and that the worst cases among our men will be taken there."
In comparison with the loss of the French that of the British had been very small. From their position on commanding heights they had suffered but little from the fire of the French artillery, and the casualties were almost confined to Fane's brigade, the 43d Regiment, Anstruther's, and the two regiments of Ferguson's brigade that had been attacked by Brennier, and before nightfall the whole of the wounded had been brought in and attended to, the hospitals arranged, and the men far more comfortably bestowed than in the temporary quarters taken up during the heat of the conflict. As there was no prospect of an immediate movement, the soldier servants of the wounded officers had been excused from military duty and told off to attend to them, and when Terence went down in the evening he found his father, O'Grady, and Saunders--the latter a young lieutenant--comfortably lodged in a large room in which three hospital beds had been placed. O'Grady had quite recovered his usual good spirits.
"Don't draw such along face, Terence," he said, as the lad entered; "we are all going on well. Your father has been bandaged all over the chest and body, and is able to breathe more comfortably; as for me, except that I feel as if somebody were twisting a red-hot needle about in my arm, I am as right as possible, and Saunders is doing first-rate. The doctors thought at first that he had got a ball through his body; after they got him here they had time to examine him carefully, and they find that it has just run along the ribs and gone out behind, and that he will soon be about again. If it wasn't that the doctors say I must drink nothing but water with lemon-juice squeezed into it, I would have nothing to complain of. We have got our servants. Hoolan came in blubbering like a calf, the omadhoun, and I had to threaten to send him back to the regiment before he would be sensible. He has sworn off spirits until I am well enough to take to them, which is a comfort, for I am sorry to say he is one of those men who never know when they have had enough."
"Like master, like man, O'Grady."
"Terence, when I get well you will repint of your impudence to your supayrior officer, when he is not able to defend himself."
Terence went across to his father's bed.
"Do you really feel easier, father?"
"A great deal, lad. I was so bruised that every breath I took hurt me; since I have been tightly bandaged I am better, ever so much. Daly says that in a few days I shall be all right again as to that, but that the other business will keep me on my back for a long time. He has examined my wound again, and says he won't touch it for a few days; but I can see that he is rather afraid that the bone has been grazed if not splintered. You have not heard what is going to be done, have you?"
"No, father; the talk is that no move will be made anyhow until Sir John Moore lands with his troops; after that I suppose we shall go forward."
"It is a pity we did not push forward to-day, lad, if, as I hear, half the force were never engaged at all. Junot would not have carried off a gun if our fellows had been launched against them while they were in disorder. As it is, I hear they have marched away over that ridge in as good order as they came, and so we shall have all the work of thrashing them to do over again."
"They say that is what Sir Arthur wanted to do, father, but Burrard overruled him."
"Did any man ever hear of such nonsense as a general who knows nothing at all about the matter coming and taking over the command from a general who has just won a battle, and who has all the ins and outs of the matter at his finger-ends!"
"Now, my dear O'Connor," O'Grady broke in, "you know what Daly said, the quieter you lie and the less you talk the better. He did not say so to meself; in the first place, because he knew it would be of no use, and in the second, because there is no raison on earth why, because a man has lost a bit of his arm, his tongue should not wag. And what does the colonel say, Terence; is he not delighted with the regiment?"
"He is that, and he has a right to be," Terence said. "The way they went at the French, and tumbled them over the crest and down the hill was splendid. The tears rolled down his cheeks when he heard that the major and the others were killed, but he said that a man could not die more gloriously. He shook hands with all the officers after it was over, and sent a party down to the town to buy and bring up some barrels of wine, and served out a good allowance to each man. As soon as the firing ceased I heard him tell O'Driscol that he was proud to have commanded the regiment."
"That is good, Terence; and now, do you think that you could bring me up just a taste of the cratur?"
"The divil a drop, O'Grady; if Daly and O'Flaherty both say that you are not to have it, it is certain that it is bad for you. But I'll tell you what I will do; I have one bottle of whisky left, and I will promise you that it sha'n't be touched till you are well enough to drink it, and if we are marched away, as I suppose we shall be, I will hand it over to O'Flaherty to give you when you are fit to take it. He tells me that he will be left to look after the wounded when we move."
"I could not trust him, Terence; I would hand over a bag of gold uncounted to him, but as for whisky, the temptation would be too great for an Irishman to resist. Look here, you put it into a wooden box and nail it up securely, and write on it 'O'Grady's arm,' and hand it over to him solemnly, and tell him that I have a fancy for burying the contents myself, which will be true enough, though it is me throat I mean to bury it in."
Knowing that it was best they should be left in quiet, Terence soon left them and returned to the regiment.
"Well, Dick, what did you think of a battle?" he asked his chum.
"I don't quite know what I did think. It does not seem to me that I thought much about it at all, what with the noise of the firing and the shouting of the men, and the whistle overhead of the French round shot, and the men cheering, the French shouting and the excitement, there was no time for thinking at all. From the time the skirmishers came running up the hill to the time when we rolled the French down it, I seem to have been in a dream. It's lucky that I had no words of command to give, for I am sure I should not have given them. I don't think I was frightened at all; somehow I did not seem to think of the danger. It was just a horrible confusion."
"I felt very much like that, too. It was not a bit like what it was when we took that brig; I felt cool enough when we jumped on to her deck. But then there was no noise to speak of, while the row this morning was tremendous. I tried to cheer when the men did, but I could not hear my own voice, and I don't know whether I made any sound or not."
A delay of some weeks took place after the battle of Vimiera. The Mayo Fusiliers were not among the troops who entered Lisbon in order to overawe the populace and prevent attacks both upon French soldiers and officers, and Portuguese suspected of leaning towards the French cause. Throughout the country everything was in confusion. A strong party, at whose head were the Bishop of Oporto and Friere, denounced the convention with the French--against whom they themselves had done nothing--as gross treachery on the part of the English to Portugal. They endeavoured in every way to excite the feelings of the population, both in the country and the capital, against the British; but in this they failed altogether, for the people were too thankful to get rid of the oppression and exactions of the invaders to feel aught but satisfaction at their being compelled to leave the country.
The Junta at Oporto, at whose head was the bishop, desired to grasp the entire power throughout the country, and were furious at being thwarted in their endeavours to prevent a central Junta being established at Lisbon. Throughout Spain also chaos reigned. Each provincial Junta refused co-operation with others, and instead of concerting measures for resistance against the great force that Napoleon was assembling on the frontier, thought only of satisfying the ambitions and greed of its members. The generals disregarded alike the orders from the central Junta at Madrid and those of the provincial Juntas, quarrelled among themselves to a point that sometimes approached open hostility, and each acted only for his private ends. Arms had been sent in vast numbers from England; yet, while the money so lavishly bestowed by British agents went into the pockets of individuals, the arms were retained by the Juntas of Seville, Cadiz, and the maritime ports, and the armies of Spain were left almost unarmed.
The term army is indeed absurd, as applied to the gatherings of peasants without, an idea of discipline, with scarcely any instruction in drill, and in the majority of, cases, as the result proved, altogether deficient in courage; and yet, while neglecting all military precautions and ready to crumble to pieces at the first approach of the French, the arrogance and insolence of the authorities, civil and military alike, were absolutely unbounded. They disregarded wholly the advice of the British officers and agents, and treated the men who alone could save them from the consequences of their folly with open contempt.
After a fortnight's halt at Vimiera the Mayo Fusiliers were marched, with four other regiments, to Torres Vedras, where they took up their quarters. In the middle of October O'Grady and Saunders rejoined, and Terence obtained a few days' leave to visit his father.
The latter's progress had been slow; the wound was unhealed, pieces of bone working their way out, and the doctors had decided that he must be invalided home, as it was desirable to clear out the hospitals altogether before the army marched into Spain.
"They think the change of air will do me good," Major O'Connor said to Terence, as they were chatting together after the latter arrived, "and I think so myself. It is evident that I cannot take part in the next campaign, but I hope to rejoin again in the spring. Of course it is hard, but I must not grumble; if the bullet had been half an inch more to the right it would have smashed the bone altogether, then I should have had small chance indeed, for taking off the leg at the hip is an operation that not one man in twenty survives. O'Flaherty says he thinks that all the bits of bone have worked out now, and that I may not be permanently lame; but if it is to be so, lad, it is of no use kicking against fate. I have got my majority, and if permanently disabled by my wounds, can retire on a pension on which I can live comfortably."
"So I hear that Sir John Moore is going to march into Spain. By the way, you have got some cousins in Oporto or the neighbourhood, though I don't suppose you are likely to run against them."
"I never heard you say anything about them before, father."
"No; I don't think that I ever did mention it. A first cousin of mine went over, just about the time that I was married, to Oporto, and established himself there as a wine merchant. He had been out there before for a firm in Dublin, and when Clancy's father died, and he came into some money he went out, as I said, and started for himself. He was a sharp fellow and did well, and married the daughter of a big land-owner. We used to hear from him occasionally. He died about a year ago, and left a girl behind him; she had been brought up in her mother's religion. He never said much about his wife, but I fancy she was a very strong Roman Catholic, and that they did not quite agree about the girl, who, as I gathered, had a hankering after her father's religion. However, after Clancy died we never heard any more of them.
"There was a letter from their man of business announcing the death, and stating that Clancy had left his own property, that is to say, the money he had made in business, to the girl. What has become of her since I do not know. It was no business of mine, though I believe that I was his nearest relation--at least my uncle had no other children, and there were neither brothers nor sisters except him and my father. Still, as he left a widow who had a good big property on her own account, and was connected with a lot of grandee families, there was no occasion for me to mix myself up in the affair; and, indeed, it never entered my head to do so. Yet, Clancy and I were great friends, and I should be glad to know what has become of his girl. I fancy that she is about your age, and if Moore should take you up north you might make some inquiries there. The mother's family name was Montarlies, and I fancy, from what Clancy said, her father's property was somewhere to the north of Oporto, so I expect that at that town you would be likely to hear something of them."
"All right, father; if we go there I will be sure to make some inquiries."
On the fourth day after Terence's arrival the hospital was broken up, the convalescents marched for Torres Vedras, and Major O'Connor, with four other officers and forty men, were put on board a ship to be taken to England.
"Your visit has done your father good, Terence," O'Flaherty said, as, after seeing the party safely on board ship, he returned to the town whence they were to march with the convalescents, sixty in number, among whom were five officers. "He has brightened up a deal the last four days, and his wound looks distinctly more healthy. I have a strong hope that all those splinters have worked out now, and your being here has given him a fillip, so that he is altogether better and more cheerful. I hope by the spring he will be able to rejoin us. I can tell you I am mighty glad to be off again myself. It has been pretty hard work here, for I have had, for the last fortnight, a hundred and twenty men on my hands. At first there were three of us here, but two went off with the last batch of convalescents, and I have been alone since. Luckily Major Peters has been well enough to look after things in general, and help the commissariat man; still, with forty bad cases, I have not had much time on my hands. Of course I knew him and all the other officers, but they all belonged to other regiments, and it was not like being among the Mayos. And when do you think we will be starting again?"
"I have no idea. I have heard that Moore is doing everything he can to hurry on things, but that he is awfully hampered for want of money. It is scandalous. Here are our agents supplied with immense sums for the use of these blackguard Spaniards, yet they keep their own army without funds."
"If the general has no funds, Terence, he had better be stopping where he is. There is no getting anything in Portugal without paying ten times the proper price for it, and from what I hear of the Spaniards they will charge twenty times, put the money in their pockets, and then not even give you what you paid for. As to their being any good to us as allies, it is not to be hoped for; they will take our arms and our money, expect us to feed their troops, and will then run away at the sight of a French soldier; you will see if they don't."
"I hear that the Junta of Corunna says that all the north will rise as soon as we enter their country."
"They may rise and flock round us until they have got arms and money, and then they will go off to their homes again. That is the sort of assistance that is to be had from them. We should do a deal better if there was not a Spaniard in the country, and it was left to us to fight it out with the French."
"In that case, O'Flaherty, we should never cross the frontier at all. They say that Napoleon is gathering a great army, and against such a force, with the French troops already in Spain, our twenty or twenty-five thousand men would fare very badly, especially as they say that the emperor is coming himself."
"That is worse news than the other, Terence. It is only because the French generals have always been quarrelling among themselves that the whole Peninsula has not been conquered; but with Napoleon at the head of affairs it would be a different matter altogether, and my humble opinion is that we had better stay where we are until he has wiped out the Spaniards altogether."
"You don't take a sanguine view of things."
"You have been with the regiment, Terence, and have had very little to do with the natives. I have not seen very much of them either, thank goodness; but I have seen quite enough to know that though perhaps the peasants would make good soldiers, if officered by Englishmen, there is mighty little feeling of patriotism among the classes above them. Reading and writing may be good for some countries, but as far as I see here, reading and writing spoil them here, for every man one comes across who can sign his name is intent either on filling his pocket, or on working some scheme or other for his own advantage. If I were Sir John Moore I would send up a division to Oporto, hang the bishop and every member of the Junta, shoot Friere and a dozen of his principal officers, and if the people of Oporto gave them the chance clear the streets with grape-shot. Why, if it hadn't been for a small guard of our fellows with the French garrisons that were marched down there to embark, the Portuguese would have murdered every man-jack of them. They did murder a good many, and robbed them all of their baggage; and if it had not been that our men loaded and would have fired on them if they had gone further, not a Frenchman would have got off alive. If this had been done in Lisbon, where the French had been masters, there might have been some sort of excuse for it; but they had never been near Oporto at all, and therefore the people there had no scores to settle with them."
"I am afraid, O'Flaherty, that an army worked on your principles would never get far from the coast, for we should have the whole country against us."
"So much the better if we never got far from the coast. How much help have we had from them? There is not a single horse or waggon for transport except those we have hired at exorbitant prices; not a single ounce of food. They would not even divide with us the magazines at Leirya, which they had no share in capturing. The rabble they call an army has never fired a shot or marched a yard with us, except Trant's small command, and they were kept so far out of it in both fights, that I doubt whether they fired a shot; and yet they take upon themselves to throw every obstacle in our way, to dictate to our generals, and to upset every plan as soon as it is formed.
"Well, I shall be glad to be back with the regiment again, Terence. There is some fun going on there anyhow, and I have not had a hearty laugh since O'Grady went off ten days ago."
"We were all heartily glad to see him back again," Terence said. "He does not seem a bit the worse for having lost his hand."
"No, he has got through it a deal better than I had expected, considering that he is not what might be called a very temperate man."
"Not by any means. It is not very often that he takes more liquor than he can carry, but he generally goes very close to the mark."
"I kept him very short here," O'Flaherty laughed, "and told him that if he did not obey orders I would have him invalided home; I have got him to promise that he will draw in a bit in future, and have good hopes of his keeping it, seeing that when the army starts again you won't get much chance of indulging."
"It will be a good thing for others as well as O'Grady," Terence said, quietly. "I suppose in Ireland the whisky does not do much harm, seeing that it is a wet country; but here I notice that they cannot drink half as much as they were accustomed to without feeling it."
"That is true for you, Terence. Half a bottle here goes as far as a bottle in the old country; and I find with the wounded, spirits have a very bad effect, even in very small quantities. There is one thing, when the troops are on the march they not only get small chance of getting drink, but mighty little time to think of it. When you have been doing your twenty miles a day, with halts and stoppages on these beastly roads and defiles, and are on your feet from daylight until late in the evening, and then, perhaps, a turn at the outposts, a man hasn't got much time for divarshon; and even if there is liquor to be had, he is glad enough when he has had a glass or so to wrap himself in his cloak and lie down to sleep. I have nearly sworn off myself, for I found that my head troubled me in the morning after a glass or two, more than it did after an all-night's sitting at Athlone. Ah, Terence, it is lucky for you that you have no fancy for it!"
"I hope I never shall have, O'Flaherty. If one has got thoroughly wet through in a long day's fishing, it may be that a glass of punch may keep away a cold, though even that I doubt. But I am sure that I am better without it at any other time; and I hope some day the fashion will change, and instead of it being considered almost as a matter of course after a dinner that half the men should be under the table, it will then be looked upon as disgraceful for a man to get drunk, as it is now for a woman to do so."
O'Flaherty looked at his companion with amused surprise. "Faith, Terence, that would be a change indeed, and you might as well say that you hope the time will come when you can whip off a fellow's leg without his feeling pain."
"Perhaps that may come too," Terence laughed; "there is no saying."
The next morning the detachment started at daybreak and marched to Torres Vedras, where they heard that a general movement was expected to begin. The regiment had now a comfortable mess, and the situation was freely discussed as scraps of news arrived from Lisbon. Could the English ministry have heard the comments on their imbecility passed by the officers of the British army, even they might have doubted the perfect wisdom of their plan. On the 6th of October, Moore had received a despatch stating that 30,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry were to be employed in the north of Spain. Ten thousand of these were to be sent out direct from England, the remainder were to be composed of regiments from the army in Portugal. Moore had the choice of taking the troops round in ships or of marching them direct. He decided upon the latter course, for arrangements had been made by Sir Hew Dalrymple to enter Spain by Almeida, and, moreover, he thought that the resources of the sea-coast of Galicia would not be more than sufficient to supply transport and food for the 10,000 men who were to land there under the command of Sir David Baird.
The English general's difficulties were indeed overwhelming. He had soldiers who, although but recently raised, had shown themselves good fighters; but he was altogether without even transport sufficient for the officers. With an ample supply of money, an experienced staff, and a well-organized commissariat, the difficulties might have been overcome, but Sir John Moore was practically without money. His staff had no experience whatever, and the commissariat and transport officers were alike ignorant of the work they were called upon to perform. He was unacquainted with the views of the Spanish government, and uninformed as to the numbers, composition, and situation of the Spanish armies with whom he was to act, or with those of the enemy. He had a winter march of 300 miles before he could join Sir David Baird, who would have 200 miles to march from Corunna to join him, and there was then a. distance of another 300 miles to be traversed before he reached the Ebro, which was designated as the centre of his operations.
And all this had to be done while a great French army was already pouring in through the passes of the Pyrenees. No more tremendous, or, it may be said, impossible, task was ever assigned to an English commander; and to add to the absurdity of their scheme, the British government sent off Sir David Baird without instructions, and even without money. The Duke of York had vainly protested against the plan of the ministry, and had pointed out that nothing short of an army of 60,000 men, fully equipped with all necessaries for war--money, transport, and artillery--could achieve success of any kind.
Upon the day Terence rejoined, news came from the engineers in advance that the assurances Sir John Moore had received that the road by which the army was to travel was perfectly practicable for artillery and baggage-waggons, were wholly false, and it was probable that the artillery and cavalry would have to make a long circuit to the south.
It was too late now to change the route for the rest of the army. Nearly half the force had already started on the road to Almeida, and the supplies for their subsistence had been collected at that town. Therefore it was necessary that the main body of the infantry should travel by that road, while three thousand were to act as a guard for the artillery and cavalry on the other route.