To prevent the French from
possessing themselves of the Maya heights, Wellington directed the Earl of
Dalhousie, with his division, to threaten them by moving on San Estevan;
while Sir Rowland Hill, with the first and three others of his brigades,
made a similar demonstration, by marching through the wild and romantic
pass of Lanz.
Along the whole line of
march from Vittoria to the Pyrenees, a distance of about one hundred
miles, the roads were strewed with dead or abandoned horses, broken
waggons, dilapidated carriages, military caissons, and clothing of every
kind; uniforms of officers, rich dresses, laces, veils, and gloves of
ladies, which were torn forth from mails and imperials by the rude hands
of guerillas and cacadores, and scattered about everywhere; thousands of
French commissariat returns, bundles of bank-notes, and packets of
letters, written to many who then lay cold beneath the tun at Vittoria,
were scattered over the ground by which the French had retired. Many poor
stragglers, disabled by wounds or starvation, fell into the hands of the
conquerors, and with others many ladies of Joseph's court, who on
escaping, when the carriages were taken by Graham's division, had
attempted to make their way to the Pyrenees by passing through wild and
unfrequented places. Many of these unfortunate creatures fell into the
power of the Spaniards, and were treated in a manner too barbarous to
relate; and others were seen by the gentler British, fainting, expiring,
or dead by the wayside, barefooted, almost naked, and reduced to the most
pitiable condition. All who were found alive were sent under an escort to
the rear, to be placed among the other prisoners.
The great chain of the
Pyrenees was now before the victors, and on the 3rd of July, Hill, with
his four brigades, began to ascend the heights. After a harassing march
through that deep gorge among the mountains which takes its name from the
town of Lanz, they came in view of the out-pickets of General Gazan's
corps, and arrangements were made to drive them in forthwith. Led by
Fassifern, the first brigade moved through the most solitary passes of the
mountains by a village named Almandos, and took up a position on the left
of Gazan's outposts, upon which Sir Rowland gave orders to attack them in
front. On finding that Cameron had turned their flank so effectually, they
retired, firing by the way, and reached their main body at Barreta, where
a sharp skirmish took place, in which the Condé d'Amarante's Portuguese
Next day Gazan retired
precipitately through Elizondo, followed by the Portuguese, who were eager
to revenge the slaughter of their comrades in the preceding day's
skirmish, and the troops resumed their march towards the heights of Maya.
'Cheerily now, Highlandmen!'
cried Campbell, flourishing his cudgel, as he spurred his horse past the
heavily-accoutred sections, who were toiling up the mountains; 'hold
cheerily on, my lads! Set a stout heart to a stey brae,—ye mind the old
saying at home: ye'll soon see the high road to Britain, the way we must
all go, ere we see the curl of our ain peat-reek.'
A few hours' march brought
them to the summits of the Pyrenees, and afar off was seen the ocean,
which they had not beheld for so long. It was the way to their homes, and
from a simultaneous feeling which inspired every man, three hearty cheers
awoke the echoes of the mountains; caps and bonnets were tossed into the
air,—the bands struck up 'Rule Britannia,' and the pipers blew till their
faces grew purple and black. The brigades halted for a few minutes, and a
dead silence succeeded the first outbreak of their joy. Every man's breast
seemed swelling with emotions which he found it impossible to communicate; but he read in the faces of his comrades the same joy which quickened
the pulses of his own heart. The sea,—the same deep-heaving sea which
swept around the rocks and shores of their own country, now spread its
broad bosom before them; and long and wistfully they gazed on the white
sails of the solitary British cruisers, which here and there dotted the
dark-blue waters of the Bay of Biscay. The green ridges of the Lower
Pyrenees, the fertile plains and wooded vales of France, lay spread at
their feet like a brightly-tinted map. Saint Jean de Luz, the famous and
opulent Bayonne, and a thousand minor towns and villages, were seen from
those lofty summits, now trod by British soldiers for the first time.
Behind them lay sunny Espana, through which they had toiled and fought
their way, and where many a comrade had found his grave,—but no man looked
to the rear. Every eye was turned to the north,—on France, which lay below
them. But stern and bloody work was awaiting them, and many a one whose
heart then bounded with thoughts of his native home, and with a thousand
inexpressible hopes, wishes, and fond anticipations, was doomed to find
his last resting-place on these very heights of Maya. That night the
troops bivouacked on the mountain-side, a league in front of Elizondo. As
it was generally his luck, after any march which had been particularly
long and tiresome, Ronald Stuart had command of an advanced picket,
forming one of the chain thrown out in the direction of Gazan's division,
which had taken up a position lower down the mountains, with the
determination to dispute every inch of ground that led to la belle
France,—a resolution which the Marquis of Wellington determined to put to
the test next day. Stuart's orders were to visit his sentries every hour
throughout the night, to keep them on the alert; a duty which proved very
harassing after so long a march, as it was almost impossible to sleep in
the short intervals between the rounds. However, fretting would not have
bettered the affair, and rolling himself up in his cloak, he resolved to
make himself as comfortable as he possibly could. A huge fire lighted by
the soldiers lessened the cold, and counteracted the effects of a heavy
wetting dew, which falls amid these mountains at almost every season.
After his ration of beef had been broiled on
the embers, eaten without salt off the end of a ramrod, and washed down
with a canteenful of that rich cider,for the production of which the
district around Elizondo is so famous; after listening to the merry bells
of the town, which were ringing in honour of the British, and after
watching, until he grew weary, the varying effects of light and shade, as
the red blaze of a dozen picket fires glared on the beetling crags, deep
seams and gorges, or green sides of the hills, he found it almost
impossible to resist the invasion of sleep. Even the miniature of his
dark-haired Alice failed to enliven him, and he envied the privates of his
party, who, having neither command nor responsibility, slept soundly by
the fire, with their knapsacks beneath their heads, and their arms piled
beside them. On consulting his watch to see how the time went, he found
that it was midnight, and that an hour had elapsed since his last visit.
As it was necessary to be attended by some one, he awoke Evan, and
desiring him to take his arms, moved towards his sentinels, whom he had
considerable trouble in discovering, as the night was intensely dark. All
was right, every soldier was on the alert, and Ronald was returning with
his follower through the winding and rocky path towards the fire, which
served as a beacon to guide them to their post, and which they beheld
glimmering through the gloom some hundred yards off, when a piercing cry
rang through the still air, at a short distance from the place where they
exclaimed Evan, beginning to unbuckle his pouch; 'what can that be, in sic
a wild place as this?
'A woman's voice, I think.'
'It cam frae the hill on the left o' the
road,—I'm sure o't. Hech! it was an unco cry.'
'Follow me,' said his master, beginning
quickly to ascend the hill.
'Hech, sir! dinna venture up the bank till we
hear something mair,' said Evan cautiously, following promptly,
nevertheless. 'My certie! we kenna what folk may bide amang the holmes and
howes hereabout. At hame I have heard tell o' sic cries ringing at this
time, between the nicht and morning, and they were aye for ill, never for
gude. Sae be advised, sir, and wait a wee.'
'Evan!' said Stuart angrily, 'are you afraid
'Ye ken I am no, sir!'
replied the Highlandman sharply. 'I would scorn to turn heel on sax o' the
best that ever trod on heather. Mair would, maybe, be venturesome.'
'Of bogles, then,—or spunkies, or what?' The
soldier was silent. 'Campaigning might have taught you to laugh at such
on, sir,' replied the other sturdily; 'if auld Mahoud, wi' horns, hoofs,
and blazing een, sat on the brae-head, I'll follow ye; but auld Dugald,
the cornel's man, tauld me an unco story ca'd the lham-dearg, that gars me
scunner at my ain shadow after nicht-fa'.' Again the cry rang loud and
shrilly, and many others followed in succession.
'There is no mistake now,' cried Ronald,
rushing up the hill towards a light, which was seen twinkling through the
darkness. 'It is the voice of a woman,—and she cries for help.' Scrambling
forward, among rocks and stunted trees, a few moments brought them in
front of a hut of the rudest and humblest construction. The light shone
through the open hole which served for a window, and from this structure
the cries, which had now died away, had certainly proceeded. Before he
entered, Ronald reconnoitered the interior through the loop-hole. Two
shepherds, arrayed in the coarse clothing made of the undyed wool of the
mountain sheep, sat smoking cigars and drinking at a rough wooden table,
while they coolly surveyed a very singular scene. A young and very
handsome woman, a lady evidently, by her form and air, although her dress
was torn and soiled, her white silk bonnet hanging in fritters, her hair
dishevelled, and her feet almost bare, struggling wildly with, and
exerting every energy to oppose, the brutality of—whom? Cifuentes! the
diabolical Narvaez Cifuentes, who, like a bird of ill-omen, seemed doomed
to cross the path of Ronald Stuart wherever he went,—and even there, on
the borders of France. He appeared the same ferocious dog as ever, with
his matted hair and scrub beard ; but his aspect was now rendered hideous
by a large scar on the cheek and chin, caused probably by the random shot
which Lord Dalhousie had bestowed upon him at Vittoria. His musket, sabre,
and pistols lay upon the table. His stiletto he held to the white neck of
the sinking girl, and swore by every saint in the calendar that he would
plunge it into her heart if she did not cease her cries. Overcome with
terror and exhaustion, she sunk upon her knees before him, when Evan,
applying his foot to the door, dashed it in, and Stuart, rushing forward,
grasped Narvaez by the throat, and hurled him to the earth, before, in his
own defence, he could strike a blow with his weapon, which Evan wrested
adroitly from his hand, and saying, with a grin, that 'it wad mak' a brave
skene-dhu for his father the piper,' stuck it into his right garter.
Fiercely did Cifuentes struggle with his athletic assailant, who, although
he planted a foot on his throat, delayed, with a mistaken, humanity to
bury his claymore in his heart,—a display of mercy Ronald had reason
afterwards to repent most bitterly.
The two herds started to their feet on
beholding this unexpected conflict, and the lady, in the extremity of her
terror, flung her arms around Stuart, and, grasping him convulsively,
completely impeded his movements. Of this circumstance his adversary did
not fail to take the utmost advantage. After several fruitless efforts, he
escaped from Ronald's powerful grasp, and eluding the bayonet of Evan, who
charged him breast-high, rushed from the cottage, and disappeared in the
darkness with the speed of a hare.
Ronald's fury was now turned against the
villainous shepherds, whom, in the extremity of his anger, he threatened
to put to death; upon which they quitted their dwelling, and made a hasty
retreat. While Evan stood sentinel at the door, his master endeavoured to
calm and pacify the young lady, whom he found to be French—very pretty and
very attractive. No sooner had her terror subsided than she returned him
thanks and praises with such volubility in French and English that Ronald
became almost abashed, and with some reserve inquired her name.
'The Baroness de Clappourknuis.'
'Oh, indeed! And how alone in such a place as
you need scarcely ask. When the royal carriages were captured on the road
to Bayonne, I was one of the few who effected an escape from them. Oh,
pity me! monsieur officier, and do not deliver me up to be sent a prisoner
what would you have me to do?'
'Oh, anything you please,—that is, monsieur,
conceal me but for a day or so. General Gazan's troops are not far off,
and my husband, the baron, is with them. I may find means to rejoin him
safely. I am sure you will not treat me cruelly—your look is so gentle.
But we Frenchwomen have quite a terrible idea of you British soldiers, and
my fears have carried me thus far from the fatal plains of Vittoria. Ah!
good sir, you may imagine, but I can never describe, the terrors, the
miseries, the horror I have undergone while wandering so great a distance
alone and unprotected among these barbarous Spaniards. And, O mon Dieu!
when I had almost gained the shelter of Gazan's lines, I fell into the
power of that fearful creature, from whose savage treatment you have so
bravely rescued me.'
'Where did you meet with him, madame?'
'Wandering in the pass of Lanz,—for I was
compelled to seek the most unfrequented paths. Clad in the habit of some
of the religieux of this country, he met me. I had nothing to fear from
one who wore the garb of peace. I confided in him : he offered to become
my guide, and led me hither. You know the rest. Ah, monsieur! complete
your kindness, I beseech you, and see me in safety to the French
ask of me, madame, I cannot perform, and I say so with regret. 'Tis three
miles from this to the enemy's position. I cannot escort you myself, being
on a particular duty, and I have not the means of sending you thither;
yet, believe me, for the sake of poor D'Estouville's first love I would do
This was said
in a tone of feeling, slightly mingled with reproach, and the colour of
the lady came and went while she gazed on Ronald with a look of
'Monsieur,' said she, after a pause,' did you
know Major D'Estouville?'
'Intimately, although a Frenchman and an
enemy. I beheld him die.'
'At Merida? Her lip quivered.
'Poor Victor!' said the baroness thoughtfully.
'The last words he uttered were your
name,—Diane de Montmichel. He expired in great agony, on a bed of straw,
stretched on the cold pavement of an ancient chapel.'
'Merci! Ah, monsieur! do not, do not tell me
any more of this!' said she, covering her face with her hands,—which, I
may observe, were very small and beautifully formed,—and beginning to weep
and sob. 'I dare not think of Victor now,—now, when the wedded wife of
another ! To do so would be a sin, even although he is dead.'
'D'Estouville told me his story. He loved you
very truly, madame.'
'I know that. You will certainly think me very cruel in deserting him, but
Heaven knows I did not do so wilfully; I was not entirely to blame. At
Lillebonne we understood that he had been killed; and long I wept and
sorrowed for him, and protested that, until death, I would remain unwedded
for his sake. Monsieur le Baron made proposals for my hand, and it was
given him by my parent even before my consent was obtained. Terror,
sorrow, and domestic persecution did the rest, and I became the bride of
the new suitor, who indeed loves me very dearly, and I have every reason
to be grateful to him. A coronet is a gay and attractive thing ; yet think
not, monsieur, that I have forgotten poor Victor, though I struggle with
my heart to teach it the duty it owes the baron. One cannot have two loves
for one heart,' she added, sobbing and blushing.
'Well, madame,' said Stuart, anxious to end
her embarrassment, 'some arrangement must he made. First let us leave this
said the lady joyfully; and beginning to bustle about, she put her
dilapidated dress in some order. ' But,' added she, shrugging her
shoulders, 'for where, monsieur?'
'With your permission, madame, to my picket at
the foot of the hill, in the first place,' replied Stuart, consulting his
watch. 'I have teen absent nearly an hour. Hah ! there will be the devil
to pay should I be missed.'
'Ay will there, sir,' said Evan, who had
leaned his chin upon the muzzle of his piece, and 'glowered' with
considerable surprise during the sudden and animated conversation which
his master had carried on so glibly with the strange lady. 'I hae been
keepin' my lug to the wind, to hearken if ony soonds cam up the brae, but
there has been naething asteer as yet. Ye hae nae been missed; but, gude
save us, sir, let's awa before waur comes o't! Fassifern "the chief"
himsel's on duty; and whan he gangs the round, a bonnie kick up there will
be gin ye're no at your post; and ye ken the cornel is waur than the deil
to warsle wi'.' Stuart knew that this was good and sound advice, however
homely its delivery; and he prepared to rejoin his picket, before Cameron,
who was field-officer on duty, might visit it.
By pinning up here and there, tucking up one
thing and letting out another, the lady wrought away rapidly with her neat
and nimble little hands, working as only a Frenchwoman could have done,
and in three minutes her travel-stained and disordered attire was nicely
and very passably arranged. Ronald offered his assistance, but the lady
dispensed with it, thanking him with a smile, and saying he ' could not be
a very adroit femme de chambre! The glossy locks were smoothly placed over
her white forehead, and the crushed bonnet had almost resumed its true
Parisian shape. Its draggled feathers were cast aside, but the rich white
veil she disposed gracefully over the front; and, looking at Stuart with a
glance of mingled archness, coquetry, and timidity, observed that she was
'attired somewhat more à la mode,' and took his proffered arm. 'Ah,
monsieur!' said she, 'once more I entreat you, do not deliver me up as a
prisoner to be sent to England,—that horrid place!'
'Not if I can help it,—I pledge you my word of
honour. In transferring you to the French lines, I incur considerable
risk; but as the distance is so short, I will see if it can possibly be
done before day breaks.'
He threw his ample cloak around her, and
giving strict injunctions to Evan not to acquaint his comrades who the
lady was, began to descend the hill as quickly as the trembling steps of
the latter would permit along such a dark and rugged path. Before leaving
the hut, Evan took care to break and destroy all the offensive weapons it
contained, saying as he did so,'that fules and bairns shudna hae chappin'
sticks.' He proposed to set the hut in a 'bleeze,' to light their way down
the hill, but his master at once objected. The darkness renewed the
terrors of the young lady.
'Is the way long, monsieur? asked she, in a
no,—quite near. You see the picket-fire yonder. Ah, madame! how fortunate
I am in having come so opportunely to your rescue.'
'Oh! I shall never forget you in my
'But why are you trembling so much? Surely you
are not afraid of me?'
'Oh no! your behaviour is too cavalier-like
and gentle for that; and we have become quite like very old friends in
half an hour's time.'
'Do you fear the darkness, then?
'Mon Dieu! Ah! the darkness is nothing new to
me. Alas!' replied she, shrugging her shoulders, 'since the field of
Vittoria I have passed every night in dark and lonely places; and I wonder
now how one so timid, and so delicately nurtured, has not sunk under all
the fears and privations I have undergone for some days and nights past.'
The lady started. At that moment the voice of a sentinel was heard to give
the usual challenge.
'Who comes there?
'Rounds!' answered the bold voice of Fassifern, and the tramp of his
horse's hoofs rang on the roadway between the mountains.
'Stand, rounds!' replied the sentry, porting
his musket; and so on, with the usual ceremony, the parole and countersign
were given and received.
'Excuse me, madame, but for a minute,' said
Stuart. 'I am just in time; an instant later, and I should have been
missed.' Leaving the side of the trembling lady, he bustled about, and got
his picket under arms.
On the departure of Fassifern, whose movements
the baroness had watched with no ordinary feelings of caution and fear,
Evan was despatched for Macdonald, whom he found enjoying himself with
some other officers at a wine-house in Elizondo. He came promptly enough,
and was not a little surprised when Ronald requested, as a favour, that he
would escort a young lady to within sight of the French lines, explaining
at the same time, in as few words as possible, her story and the nature of
her situation, Alister at once accepted the honour of being her convoy.
'But,' said he, looking into the gloom which surrounded them, 'the route
is confoundedly dreary across the mountains to the rock of Maya,—Gazan's
perfectly aware of it,' replied Stuart, with an air of pique. ''Tis
impossible the baroness can go alone, and gallantry requires us to set
Wellington's orders at defiance for once, and not deliver her up. I would
have escorted her myself, but cannot leave my picket.'
'Monsieur,' said the baroness, 'I am indeed
sorry to trouble you; but surely you do not complain of the duty------'
'Oh, no! impossible, madame!' exclaimed
Alister, the blood mounting to his handsome features at the idea, while,
gracefully raising his bonnet, he observed her fair face by the red light
of the fire. 'But will you intrust yourself to the guidance of one who is
entirely a stranger, through a road so dark and dangerous?'
'I have no alternative, alas!' said she,
bending her bright eyes into the gloom, as if she strove to pierce the
depths beyond. She shuddered. ''Tis very dark, indeed, messieurs. I have
no alternative but to go, or to remain and be sent a captive to Britain.
Monsieur, I will go with you. I will depend on the untarnished honour of a
British officer, that I shall be conveyed in safety to Gazan's sentinels
at the rock of Maya.'
'Madame, you do me an honour never to be
forgotten,' answered Macdonald, with a bow profound enough for any
'puffing senor' of Old Castile, while the lady took his arm.
'Lend me your dirk, Stuart. I left mine at the
wine caza' said Alister, adjusting his belt, and putting his basket-hilt
free of plaid, sash, tassels, etc. 'It is as well to be prepared for any
sudden attack, and the baroness must be my warrant that I am not made a
prisoner of by some of Gazan's scouts or sharpshooters. So then, good-bye,
Stuart; I will come brattling up the brae in an hour or so.'
The lady kissed her hand to Stuart and
departed with Macdonald, feeling a confidence and assurance of safety
which probably no British lady would have felt, if intrusted to the charge
of a foreigner under the same peculiar circumstances.
'And this is Diane de Montmichel, the false
love of poor Victor d'Estouville,' thought Ronald, as her light figure
disappeared in the darkness. 'Well, I believe, if all the tales his friend
De Mesmai told me were true, one cannot look for much faith in French
Macdonald's return he waited with considerable anxiety, which increased
when the time by which he expected him passed away without his appearing,
and day began to dawn on the Maya heights. He could not help dreading that
Alister had not been wary enough, and had been captured by the French
advanced sentinels. If so, the escape of the . baroness would come to
light, and he feared the Marquis of Wellington would make a deuced
unpleasant row about it. He also remembered Narvaez Cifuentes, whom for
some time he had forgotten, and supposed that his friend might have
fatally encountered this savage bandit and some of his companions.
The morning had now dawned, but the valleys
between Elizondo and the rock of Maya, and even the summits of the Lower
Pyrenees, were still almost involved in darkness. Shaking the dew from
their booming wings, the eagles were soaring through the blue sky from
their eyries among the cliffs, and the morning breeze, as it swept along
the mountainsides, bore with it the delightful perfume of the aromatic
plants and little shrubs which flourish so plentifully in all waste places
From the dying embers of the picket-fire a puff of smoke curled now and
then on the pure air, but scarcely a sound woke the echoes of the place,
save the proud and steady tread of the sentries as they strode to and fro
on their posts.
Beyond the advanced chain of the latter, Ronald wandered far in search of
Macdonald, and to await his return seated himself upon a fragment of rock,
and watched attentively the long valley which lay between him and the
Lower or French Pyrenees, varying this employment by holloaing to the
eagles as he used to do at home, or by hurling stones at the glossy black
ravens as they screamed aloud, flapping their wings, and from the rocks of
the surrounding wilderness stared at him as an intruder upon their
solitude. The voice of some one singing a Gaelic song:
'Cha teid mis a chaoidh,' ['I will never
go with him.']
him to spring to his feet.
'Holloa, Alister! Is that you, my man?'
'Yes,' replied Macdonald, springing up the
rocks to where Ronald sat, and leaping to his side with the activity of a
deer; ' but you nearly made an end of me a dozen times. Every minute you
sent a large rock sousing down the ravine upon my very path. Did you not
hear me shout? Why, man, you have but half the ear of a Highland
forester!' I hope I am in time for the marquis's arrival?'
'Yes; but what a devilish long time you have
been! Madame the baroness and her squire were certainly in no hurry to
reach the rock of Maya.'
'Why no; to tell you the truth,' replied
Macdonald, laughing as heartily as his lack of breath would permit him,'
we consulted our own convenience and pleasure, and it has been the most
agreeable night, or rather morning, march since I first saw the spires of
suppose. But did you escape the French sentries?'
'How would I have been here else, Ronald? They
are posted at the foot of the rock of Maya, and must have been blind if
they did not see me. I led the young lady within a hundred yards of them,
and there bade her tenderly adieu.'
'She thanked you, of course?'
'By so delightful a salute, that I began to
persuade her to return with me; but she placed her little hand upon my
mouth, and, as the novels say, vanished from my sight,—in other words,
crossed the enemy's lines: so now, I suppose, she is in the arms of
monsieur the baron, or as he would be more appropriately styled, Jock Law,
laird of the Clapperknowes. What a pity 'tis that so sweet a girl should
be the wife of that gruff old humbug ! Hah! there go the pipes!'
'Wellington has come!'
The out-pickets rejoined their several
brigades, which in a few minutes were in motion, and marched from Elizondo
with their bands playing, and entered among the mountains towards that
part of Maya where General Gazan's corps were in position. In the forenoon
they came in sight of the enemy, when Sir Rowland Hill halted, and
Wellington, attended by a single aide-de-camp, rode forward to re-connoitre.
Ronald Stuart had now, for the first time, an opportunity of particularly
observing that great leader, of whom the world then heard, and were yet to
hear, so much.
mounted on a slight but stout crop-tailed horse, without trappings ; a
pair of plain holsters were at his saddle-bow, and a short sabre hung from
his belt. The exceeding plainness of his attire—a coarse blue cloak, and
weather-beaten cocked-hat, totally destitute of' ornament—contrasted
strongly with the richly-laced jacket and pelisse of his aide, an officer
of the 10th Hussars, that regiment of exquisite celebrity. Wellington gave
a keen but hasty glance along the ranks of the bronzed Highlanders as he
rode past, and then bent his sharp eyes on the heights, where the dark
columns of French infantry appeared in position, their long lines of
serried arms glancing as usual in the sun. For about three minutes the
marquis carefully made a reconnaissance of the foe through his telescope,
and then issued his orders.
'Sir William!' said he.
General Stuart, a fine old soldier, with hair
white as snow, a bronzed visage, and a purple coat adorned with a black
aigulet, rode up, and touched his coarse cocked hat of glazed leather.
'With the second brigade you will cross the
Bidassoa, by the pathway leading from Elizondo, and ascending the
mountains, turn the enemy's right. You will carry the rock of Maya at the
point of the bayonet.'
'It shall be done, my lord,' replied Stuart
confidently, as he drove spurs into his horse and galloped back to the
second brigade; while Sir Rowland, with the marquis, ascended to an
eminence, to observe the operations and success of this movement. While
Stuart, with his troops, moved off and disappeared among the rocks and
orchards of Elizondo, the other brigades remained under arms, and found
with considerable chagrin, that their part of the game was not yet come.
After remaining for some time—an hour, perhaps—watching attentively the
French lines, the sound of distant firing, and the appearance of smoke
curling along the hillsides, announced that the gallant Stuart had
commenced the attack. Every ear and every eye were all attention. The fire
became closer and more rapid ; a cheer was heard, and in ten minutes the
whole second brigade, consisting of the brave 'Old Buffs,' the 31st, the
57th, and 66th English regiments, were seen rushing up the hill under a
close and destructive shower of shot, which they heeded less than if it
had been a shower of rain, although it thinned their numbers deplorably.
Forward they went with the bayonet, and the right wing of the French
melted away before them.
The position was turned, and the cheers of the
victors were echoed by their comrades below, whose blood was fiercely
roused by the sound of the battle.
'They have done well,' said Wellington.
'Forward! the light troops.'
The command was obeyed with promptitude. The
6th Cacadores, the 71st Highlanders, and all the light companies, moved
off double quick, and the ravines among the hills rang with the clank of
accoutrements and the tramp of their feet. These auxiliaries scrambled
directly up the face of the hill, and the 50th Regiment, moving to the
front, opened a deadly fire on Gazan's left, while his troops were making
ineffectual attempts to recover the heights on their right. Exposed thus
to a fire on their flanks, and galled in front by a cloud of
sharpshooters, who were scattered among the rocks and bushes— bolting up
every instant to fire, and then ducking down to reload—the French began to
retreat down the hills towards France, but slowly, and keeping up their
fire with gallant yet singular determination.
The coolness displayed by the light infantry
in this skirmish was truly astonishing. To them it appeared like ordinary
shooting—a mere amusement. The Highlanders and the cacadores were seen
scampering hither and thither, leaping from rock to rock, firing and
kneeling, or throwing themselves flat on the earth, laughing and jesting
in a manner which none but those who have been eye-witnesses of such an
affair can imagine. Even the deep groan, the sudden shriek of anguish, as
some comrade, when struck by a French bullet, tossed aside his musket, and
heavily fell prone on the earth, wallowing in his blood, did not cool or
restrain them ; and thus they continued to advance for several miles,
strewing the ground with dead, and peppering the retiring foe from every
Gazan threw out a body of chasseurs to cover the retreat of his forces
down the mountains, and with them an irregular fight was maintained the
whole day. Night scarcely put an end to the contest, and allowed the jaded
French to find a shelter in their own country. The night was excessively
dark, and yet the firing continued for nearly two hours after the gloom
had fairly set in, and only ceased when friends became confounded with
foes. Seaton narrowly escaped being bayoneted by two of his own favourite
light bobs. Several of the French went the wrong way in the dark, and,
falling among the British, were captured and sent to the rear. The effect
of the midnight firing was peculiarly fine, in such a wild wilderness as
the Pyrenees. Several thousand muskets flashing incessantly through the
gloom, and wakening the myriad echoes of the mountains and gorges,
presented a very singular sight, the pleasure of viewing which was
considerably lessened by the continual whistling of shot ; until the
bugles on both sides called in the stragglers, and the British, giving one
hearty cheer of triumph and defiance, withdrew to their main body.
The lines of the latter were now established
along the heights of Maya. The whole of the mountains were enveloped in a
dense fog; a tremendous storm of rain succeeded, but the troops, the
unhappy out-pickets excepted, were snug under canvas. But there were
exposed the hundreds of killed and wounded, who could neither be sought
nor attended to then, and who lay scattered over miles of contested
ground, under all the fury of the pitiless elements. For the dead it
mattered not; but many of the wounded expired during the raging of the
storm, which accelerated their end.
Seated in his tent, on the sloping sides of
which the rain was rushing down, Stuart wrote letters for Inchavon House
and Lochisla. He found their composition no easy task, as the candle,
which was stuck in a bottle, flickered in the wind, and sputtered with the
rain-drops which oozed through the canvas sides of his bell-shaped
covering. He held out hopes of his speedy return,—but he had often done so
before ; for every new victory was deemed by the troops a precursor of
peace, and of return to their native homes.
* * * * *
Having now gained the important heights of
Maya, Lord Wellington retired to join another part of his army. The
celebrated pass was left to the care of Fassifern with the first brigade,
which encamped on the very summit of the hills, where the highroad from
the fertile vale of El Bastan descends to France.
The second brigade was posted in a valley to
the right, and the Portuguese of the Condé d'Amarante occupied a mountain
in front of the hamlet of Erraza, where a brigade of the same nation was
quartered, under the command of Colonel Ashworth. The 82nd (Prince of
Wales's Volunteers) occupied another part of the hills, about two miles
off; and to these troops was left the defence of the pass of Maya, for
which they were to fight to the last gasp,—orders which, when the time
came, were faithfully and nobly performed.