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Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 40 - An Out-Picket Adventure


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 suffered considerably.

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 were.

'Hey, sir!' 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 of men?'

'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 ideas, Evan.'

'Gang 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 this?

'Ah! monsieur, 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 to England.'

'Madame, 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 outposts!'

'What you 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 much.'

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 considerable surprise.

'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.

'Yes, madame.'

'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 place.'

'Eh bien!' 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 faltering tone.

'Oh 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 prayers,—never, monsieur!'

'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 post.'

'I am 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 women!'

For 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 throughout Spain.

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.']

caused 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 Lisbon.'

'So I 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.

He was 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 available point.

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.


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