The Young Buglers by G. A. Henty
Chapter X. Madrid.
The French sentries, who had been watching with surprise the slow approach of two peasant boys, the one carrying a child, the other assisting a woman clad in handsome, but torn and disheveled clothes, on seeing the latter fall, called to their comrades, and a sergeant and some soldiers came out from a guard-room close by.
"Hallo!" said the sergeant. "What's all this? Who is this woman? And where do you come from?"
The boys shook their heads.
"Of course," the sergeant said, lifting the lady, "they don't understand French; how should they? She looks a lady, poor thing. Who can she be, I wonder?"
"General Reynier," Tom said, touching her.
"General Reynier!" exclaimed the sergeant to his comrades. "It must be the general's wife. I heard she was among those killed or carried off from that convoy that came through last night. Jacques, fetch out Captain Thibault, and you, Noel, run for Dr. Pasques."
The officer on guard came out, and, upon hearing the sergeant's report, had Madame Reynier at once carried into a house hard by, and sent a message to the colonel of the regiment. The little girl, still asleep, was also carried in and laid down, and the regimental doctor and the colonel soon arrived. The former went into the house, the latter endeavored in vain to question the boys in French. Finding it useless, he walked up and down impatiently until a message came down from the doctor that the lady had recovered from her fainting fit, and wished to see him at once.
Tom and Peter, finding that no one paid any attention to them, sat, quietly down by the guard-house.
In a few minutes the French colonel came down. "Where are those boys?" he exclaimed hastily. There was quite a crowd of soldiers round the house, for the news of the return of General Reynier's wife and child had circulated rapidly and created quite an excitement. "Where are those boys?" he shouted again.
The sergeant of the guard came forward.
"I had no orders to keep them prisoners, sir," he said in an apologetic tone, for he had not noticed the boys, and thought that he was going to get into a scrape for not detaining them; but he was interrupted by one of the soldiers who had heard the question, bringing them forward.
To the astonishment of the soldiers, the colonel rushed forward, and, with a Frenchman's enthusiasm, actually kissed them. "Mes braves garcons!" he exclaimed. "Mes braves garcons! Look you, all of you," he exclaimed to the soldiers, "you see these boys, they are heroes, they have saved, at the risk of their own lives, mark you, General Reynier's wife and daughter; they have braved the fury of that accursed Nunez and his band, and have brought them out from that den of wolves." And then, in excited tones, he described the scene as he had heard it from Madame Reynier.
At this relation the enthusiasm of the French soldiers broke out in a chorus of cheers and excited exclamations. The men crowded round the boys, shook them by the hands, patted them on the back, and in a hundred strange oaths vowed an eternal friendship for them.
After a minute or two, the colonel raised his hand for silence. "Look you," he said to the men. "You can imagine that, after what these boys have done, their life is not safe for a moment. This accursed Nunez will dog them and have them assassinated if he can. So I leave them to you; you will take care of them, my children, will you not?"
A chorus of assurances was the reply, and the boys found themselves as it were adopted into the regiment. The soldiers could not do enough for them, but, as neither party understood the other's language, the intercourse did not make much progress. They had, however, real difficulty in refusing the innumerable offers of a glass of wine or brandy made to them by every group of soldiers as they moved about through the village.
The boys felt that their position was a false one; and although, in point of fact, they had no report to make upon the regiment, still the possibility that if discovered they might be thought to have been acting as spies on men who treated them with so much friendliness was repugnant to them. However, their stay was not to be prolonged, for the regiment had already been stationed for a month at the village, and was to be relieved by another expected hourly from France, and was then to go on to Madrid. This they learned from one of the soldiers who could speak a few words of Spanish.
It was upon the third day after their arrival that the expected regiment came in, and next morning the boys started soon after daybreak with their friends. They had not seen Madame Reynier during their stay in the village, for she was laid up with a sharp attack of illness after the excitement she had gone through. She was still far from fit to travel, but she insisted on going on, and a quantity of straw was accordingly laid in a cart, pillows and cushions were heaped on this, and an awning was arranged above to keep off the sun. The regiment had taken on the transport animals which had come in with the baggage of the troops the night before; hence the mule drivers and other followers were all strangers. The boys were marching beside the regiment, talking with one of the sergeants who had been previously for two years in Spain, and spoke a little Spanish, when the colonel, who had been riding alongside Madame Reynier, told them as he passed on to the head of the regiment, that she wished to speak to them.
The boys fell out, and allowed the troops and the line of baggage animals and carts to pass them. As the latter came along, Tom observed one of the Spanish drivers glance in their direction, and immediately avert his head.
"Peter, that fellow is one of Nunez's band; I will almost swear to his face. No doubt he has joined the convoy for the purpose of stabbing us on the first opportunity. I expected this. We must get rid of them at once."
The boys had both been furnished with heavy cavalry pistols by order of the colonel, to defend themselves against any sudden attack, and, placing his hand on the butt in readiness for instant use, Tom, accompanied by his brother walked up to the Spaniard.
"You and those with you are known," he said. "Unless you all fall out at the next village we come to, I will denounce you, and you haven't five minutes to live after I do so. Mind, if one goes on you all suffer."
The Spaniard uttered a deep execration, and put his hand on his knife, but seeing that the boys were in readiness, and that the French baggage guard marching alongside would certainly shoot him before he could escape, he relinquished his design.
"Mind," Tom said, "the first village; it is only a mile ahead, and we shall probably halt there for five minutes; if one of you goes a single foot beyond it, you will swing in a row."
So saying, the boys dropped behind again until Madame Reynier's cart came along. The sides were open, and the lady, who was sitting up, supported by pillows, with her child beside her, saw them, and called to them to climb up to her. They did so at once, and she then poured forth her thanks in tones of the deepest gratitude.
"My husband is not at Madrid," she said when she saw by the boys' confusion that they would be really glad if she would say no more; "but when he hears of it he will thank you for saving his wife and child. Of course," she went on, "I can see that you are not what you seem. Spanish boys would not have acted so. Spanish boys do not speak English. That makes it impossible for me in any way to endeavor to repay my obligation. Had you been even Spanish peasants, the matter would have been comparatively easy; then my husband could have made you rich and comfortable for life; as it is--"
She paused, evidently hoping that they would indicate some way in which she could serve them.
"As it is, madam," Tom said, "you can, if you will, be of great service to us by procuring for us fresh disguises in Madrid, for I fear that after what happened with Nunez our lives will not be safe from his vengeance anywhere in Spain. Already we have discovered that some of his band are accompanying this convoy with the intention of killing us at the first opportunity."
"Why do you not denounce them instantly?" Madame Reynier said, rising in her excitement and looking round.
"We cannot well do that," Tom said, "at least not if it can be avoided. They know already that we have recognized them, and will leave at the next village; so we are safe at present, but in Madrid we shall be no longer so. We cannot remain permanently under the guard of the bayonets of the 63d Line; and indeed our position is as you may guess, a false and unpleasant one, from which we would free ourselves at the first opportunity. We shall therefore ask you, when you get to Madrid, to provide us with fresh disguises and a pass to travel west as far as the limits of the French lines."
"You can consider that as done," Madame Reynier answered; "I only regret that it is so slight a return. And now," she said lightly, to change the conversation, "I must introduce you to this young lady. Julie," she asked in French, "do you remember those boys?"
"Yes," Julie said; "these are the boys who gave mamma and Julie water when those wicked men would not give us anything to drink when we were thirsty; and it was these boys that mamma said prevented the wicked men from killing us. They are good boys, nice boys, but they are very ragged and dirty."
Madame Reynier smiled, and translated Julie's answer.
"You know," she went on, hesitatingly, "that I know that--that you are English officers. I heard you say so when you saved us. But how is it that you can be officers so very young?"
Tom explained that in England the officers entered for the most part directly, and not, as in the French army, by promotion from the ranks, and that, consequently, the junior officers were much younger than those of equal rank in the French service.
The convoy had now reached the village, and a halt was ordered, and the boys alighting, walked forward to see that their unwelcome attendants quitted them. As the soldiers fell out from their order of march and sat down under the shade of the houses many of the Spaniards with the baggage-train followed their example, and the boys saw the man to whom they had spoken go up to four others, and in a short time these separated themselves from the rest, went carelessly round a corner, and when the order came to continue the march, failed to make their appearance. Their absence passed unnoticed save by the boys, for the natives frequently took advantage of the passage of troops and convoys to travel from one part of the country to another, for the guerillas were for the most part little better than brigands, and would plunder their own countrymen without scruple whenever the opportunity was favorable.
The march to Madrid was accomplished without adventure, and the boys improved the occasion by endeavoring to pick up as many French phrases as they could, as they marched along by the side of the sergeant who had specially taken them under his charge. He knew a little Spanish, so they managed to keep up a conversation with him in a strange medley of the two languages, which helped to pass the time away merrily. At Madrid they took up their quarters in the barracks with the regiment; they had already explained their plan of disguise to Madame Reynier, and she had promised to provide all that was necessary and to obtain the military pass for them.
They had soon reason to congratulate themselves that their stay in Madrid was under the protection of French bayonets. During the day after their arrival they remained quietly in barracks, as the appearance of two Spanish peasants walking about the street with French soldiers would have excited comments. In the evening, however, they agreed with their friend the sergeant, who was going into the town with three or four of his comrades, that they should accompany them, not, however, walking actually with them, but following a few paces behind, so as to be within reach of their assistance should any one molest them.
They reached the Piazza del Sol, the great central square of Madrid, without incident, and amused themselves with the sight of the constant stream of people passing to and fro, the ladies in their graceful black mantillas, the men in cloaks and Spanish sombreros, or round felt hats. Presently the sergeant and his companions left the square, and turning down one of the narrow streets which run into it, amused themselves by looking into the shops, with their gay fans, bright handkerchiefs, and other articles of Spanish manufacture.
Tom and Peter followed their example, keeping some ten paces behind them. It was now nearly dark, and the streets were but badly lighted except by the lamps in the shop windows.
"It may be all fancy, Tom," Peter said, "but I can't help thinking that we are followed. There are three follows who have passed us twice, and I am pretty sure they are particularly noticing us. Keep your hand on your pistol."
As the boys paused at another shop window, the three men again approached, this time from ahead.
"Look out, Tom," Peter said sharply.
As the men came up to them, one of them exclaimed,
The boys faced round, pistol in hand, with a cry to their friends, just as the three Spaniards, with drawn knives, were upon them.
The sudden movement disconcerted them, and two sprang back from the leveled tubes of the pistols, with fierce oaths of surprise, the third, however, rushed in and struck at Tom; the latter instinctively moved aside, and the knife inflicted a heavy gash on the shoulder, and almost at the same moment Peter's bullet crashed through the fellow's skull.
His comrades, with a cry of rage, rushed in, but before they could strike, the sergeant was up and ran one through the body with his sword, whereon the other fled. The whole affair lasted only three or four seconds. In less than a minute the street was absolutely deserted, for rows and fights were so common between the soldiers and the people, that all prudent people got out of the way the moment a knife was drawn.
"Well done, lad," the sergeant said to Peter, "I thought your brother was done for. Luckily I had faced your way when the fellow attacked you, and was on my way to help you before they began, but I feared I should be too late. That was a wonderfully pretty snap shot of yours, and you were as cool as old hands. Peste! I don't know what to make of you boys. Now come along, we had better get away from this carrion before any one comes up and asks questions. First, though, let me tie up your shoulder."
This was soon done, and while the sergeant was engaged upon it, his comrades, old soldiers, turned over the dead Spaniards, searched their pockets, and chuckled as they found several gold pieces.
One or two French soldiers alone came near them before they left the spot, attracted by the sound of the pistol. A word from the sergeant, "These scoundrels attacked us, they have got their coup," satisfied them, and the boys and their friend soon regained the crowded main street, leaving the bodies for the watch to find and bury.
Arrived at the barracks, Tom's arm was examined by the surgeon, and the cut pronounced a deep flesh wound, but of no consequence; it was soon strapped up, and with his arm in a sling Tom went down to the sergeant's quarters, where they slept. Here they had to go through much patting on the back, for their friend had described the readiness and coolness with which they stood at bay, and popular as they were before they were now more so than ever. For the rest of their stay in Madrid the boys did not stir out of barracks. One at least of Nunez's envoys they knew to be alive, and he could enlist any number of the lower class against them, so they resolved not to go out until they should finally start.
After a fortnight's stay they were sent for to the colonel's quarters, where they found Madame Reynier and her child. "I had a letter from my husband this morning," she said, "from his camp near Cordova, thanking you with all his heart for the inestimable service you rendered him, and begging me to tell you that you can count on his gratitude to the extent of his life at any and all times. You need no assurance of mine. And now about your journey. All is prepared for you to leave to-morrow morning. You are to come here to the colonel's quarters soon after daybreak. Here are your two disguises, for the one as a young bachelor of medicine, for the other as a young novice. Here is your pass, signed by the minister, authorizing you both to pass on to your relations at Ciudad Rodrigo, and to go unmolested thence where you choose, also recommending you to the care of all French and Spanish authorities. A regiment marches to-morrow morning for the frontier; the colonel is a cousin of my husband. I have told him that some friends of yours rendered me much kindness and service on my way down, and that I particularly commend you to his care. He has promised to allow you to follow the regiment, and to see that you get quarters at each halting-place. He does not know you for anything but what you appear to be. When you have put on these dresses to-morrow morning, step out by the private door from these quarters, looking carefully when you start to see that there is no one in the street. Then go boldly to No. 15, Rue St. Geronimo; go into the courtyard, there you will see two stout mules with all necessaries, under charge of a soldier, who will have instructions to hand them over to you without asking any questions; then go down to the Retiro and wait till the 16th come along. The Colonel will be on the look-out for you, and you will ride up to him and hand him this note. And now farewell, dear boys; never shall I forget you, or cease to pray for you, and may be when this terrible war is over we may meet as friends again. Keep these little tokens of remembrance of your grateful friends." So saying, Madame Reynier pressed into the boys' hands two magnificent gold watches and chains, held her child up for each of them to kiss, threw her arms round their necks and kissed them herself, and then drawing down her veil to conceal the tears which were standing in her eyes, left them hastily.
That night the boys said good-by to their friend the sergeant, and to those soldiers with whom they had most companionship. "You have guessed, no doubt, sergeant," Tom said, in his mixture of Spanish and French, "that we are not exactly what we seem to be, but if we should ever meet again, under different circumstances, I want you to remember that our connection with the regiment has been in a way forced upon us. I should not like you to think, that is that under the pretence of friendship, we have been treacherously learning things. Do you understand?"
"I understand, mes braves," the sergeant said, "Jacques Pinteau is no fool, and he saw from the first that you were not two ragged Spanish peasant boys by birth. I daresay I can guess what you are, but there need be no ill-will for that, and as you only came among us by accident, as it were, there is no more to be said either way. There is one thing certain, wherever or however we meet, we shall be friends."
So well were Madame Reynier's plans arranged that the boys passed from Madrid to the frontier without a single hitch or unpleasantness. Tom was soberly attired as a student at the university, Peter was muffled up to the eyes as a timid young novice, going from school to enter a convent, of which his aunt was lady superior, at Ciudad Rodrigo. The colonel, and, following his example, the officers of the regiment were polite and civil. The marches were of easy length, the mules stout and smooth-going, with well-filled traveling sacks. The weather was delightful, and the boys enjoyed the fortnight's march exceedingly. Upon the road they learned that Massena had laid siege to Ciudad Rodrigo, and that the 16th was on its way to join the besieging army.
It was the end of June, 1810, when the 16th joined Massena's force before Ciudad Rodrigo. The siege had continued for some time, the British light division, under General Craufurd, lay upon the other side of the river Agueda, which separated them alike from the town and the French army. The colonel of the 16th politely expressed to Tom his regret that he could not, for the present, conduct them to their final destination, but that he hoped that the gate would soon be open for them. Tom thanked him for the civility which he had shown them upon the road, and said that he would, with his sister, take up his abode for the present a few miles from the beleaguered fortress. On leaving the regiment the boys went higher up the Agueda to the little town of Villar, where there was a bridge. This however, was watched by the troops of both armies, and there was, at present, no chance of affecting a passage.