Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

Romance of War (or The Highlanders in Spain)
Chapter 42 - The Block-House - Mina


Hill's division from the Pyrenees arrived at Pampeluna in time to share the fighting which ensued when Soult endeavoured to dislodge the allies on the 28th, but was repulsed with immense loss. Along the heights of Huarte the contest was very severe, and the bravery of the British was only equalled by that of their enemies. Every regiment charged with the bayonet; and the Highlanders,—ever at home at close quarters,— more than once. Both armies remained quiet, during the 29th; but Wellington, having completed all his arrangements, attacked the left and centre of Soult's forces next morning, and defeated them with great slaughter. Upon this discomfiture, the marshal's only object was to secure a safe retreat into France. After a fruitless attempt to turn Sir Rowland Hill's position at La Zarza, and fighting until compelled to cease firing by night coming on, they abandoned their ground under the favouring shadow of the darkness, and on the morrow were discovered in full retreat for France by the pass of Donna Maria. The allies 'followed them up' in hot pursuit, fighting and capturing at every yard of the way, and on the 1st of August again took possession of those hard-contested passes, while the French retired into their own country completely thrashed, but certainly not to their hearts' content. With the exception of a slight bayonet-wound in a charge at La Zarza, Ronald Stuart had escaped with a whole skin during all these hard conflicts, known generally as the battles of the Pyrenees. But how much the regiment had suffered may be inferred from the fact, that of the thousand men who had landed in Spain under its colours, about eighty only were in the ranks.

The aspect of the passes of Maya and Roncesvalles, when reoccupied, was at once revolting and humiliating. The corses of friends and foes lay yet unburied there; but the death-hunters, the guerillas, and those ferocious banditti who infested every part of Spain, had been there at work; and most of the bodies were lying naked as when they came into the world. Ronald found Captain Maclvor in this condition, with his broadsword so glued and encrusted with gore to his stiffened fingers, that it could not be removed, and so was buried with him. For many days the soldiers were busied in burying the dead. Deep holes were dug, wherein friends and foes were interred together,—thrown in just as they were found; and when the pit was brim full, the earth was heaped over it. These mounds of death,—fragments of uniform, tatters of tartan and plumage, shakoes and grenadier-caps, scattered about in thousands where the troops were encamped, served very disagreeably to remind them of what might be their own fate on some future day. With the exception of his sash and epaulettes, ring and watch, etc., the body of poor Alister lay untouched, and Stuart was deeply moved, at least as much as a hard-hearted campaigner could well be, at the sight of his once merry and brave young comrade's remains. His claymore was grasped in one hand, and his bonnet in the other. The death-shot had passed through his brain, and he had fallen in the act of cheering on his men. His dark locks were damp with the midnight dew, and a formidable frown contracted his fine bold forehead. He had lain for seven days uninterred, and Ronald prepared to commit his body to the earth. It was rolled in a blanket, while Evan dug a pit three feet deep and six long, in which the corse was deposited.

'Puir Maister Macdonald!' said Evan, as he smoothed down the green sods. 'He was a leal true Scotsman and a gallant gentleman: lang it may be ere we see his maik again. He was a gude officer, and well was he loed by everyane.'

The other officers were all placed in one grave by the Highlanders, who, according to the ancient Scottish custom, piled a large cairn of loose stones over it. It was situated on the left of the road leading from Maya to France, and probably is yet to be seen. So great was the slaughter among the officers, that Stuart, although a very junior lieutenant, obtained a company, and succeeded his friend Seaton in command of the 'light bobs.' While the troops lay encamped on the Pyrenees, the different corps were soon made up to their proper strength by the return of the convalescents from Vittoria, and the arrival of recruits from the depots or second battalions at home. In about two months the Highlanders began once more to assume the appearance of a regiment; and Fassifern, and other officers who had been wounded in the fatal action of the 25th July, rejoined as soon as their scars were closed.

Along the chain of heights, strong redoubts and block-houses were placed at intervals. The last were composed of horizontal logs, loop-holed for musketry, and occupied by strong pickets, who were continually on the alert, in case Marshal Soult might again pay them some sudden visit from Gascony. One night in October, Ronald Stuart with his company were on duty in one of these block-houses, when a sudden attack was made on the position by the enemy. There had been a great fall of snow, and the intense cold by which it was accompanied added greatly to the discomfort of the troops encamped on these bleak and lofty mountains, with no other shelter against the inclemencies of the weather, day and night, than canvas tents. The hills and valleys were completely covered to the depth of several feet, and many sentinels were lost, or found dreadfully frostbitten when dug out. A path had been made from the Maya camp to the block-house which Stuart was to occupy; and as his company marched along the slippery and winding roadway, they often saw Spanish peasants or guerillas lying dead with shovels near them, showing that they had perished with the intensity of the cold whilst engaged on some working or fatigue party. In some places a frozen grisly head, or shrunken hand, clenched and withered, appeared above the smooth white surface of the snow. Had the view around the block-house been in Greenland or Newfoundland, it could not have presented a more dreary aspect. The whole of the Pyrenean chain, and the plains of Beam and Gascony below, were clad in the same white livery. The sky was of the purest, deepest and coldest blue, showing the most distant summits of the Pyrenean chain, the white peaks of which rose in long perspective beyond each other in an infinity of outlines. The dense smoke from the camp-fires was curling up from amidst the dingy-coloured tents, where now and then the beat of a drum rang out sharply into the clear and frosty air.

Although the cold was intense, and the legs of the Highlanders were as red as their jackets, the sun was shining brightly, and the whole surface of the earth and the atmosphere were sparkling and glittering in his radiance. With their muskets slung and a piper playing before them, the light company trod merrily up the ascent, many of them singing aloud to the notes of the pipe and the tramp of their feet, which sounded dull and hollow on the hard and frozen path. A captain of the 34th Regiment, whom, with his company, they relieved, left Stuart a flask of brandy, for which he and his two subs (Chisholm and Evan MacPherson) were very thankful, and they found it a considerable acquisition during a winter day and night in a log-house, where the wind went in and out at a hundred chinks and crannies. The picket-house was internally one large apartment, in the centre of which the soldiers piled their arms, and huddled close together on the ground for mutual heat, and to avoid the cold blast which blew through the numerous open loopholes in the four walls of the edifice.

Towards night, a soldier of the 66th Regiment, muffled up in his gray great-coat, came toiling up the steep ascent from the valley below, bringing to Stuart a letter, which had arrived from Lisbon in the packet for his corps. An officer of the 66th, who was intimate with Ronald, had despatched it to him forthwith, and he knew in an instant, by the handwriting and the crest on the seal, that it came from Alice Lisle. Giving the Englishman a glass of brandy, he desired him to lose no time in regaining his quarters, in case of a snow-storm setting in before nightfall.

If anything would serve to buoy up one's spirits amid all the miseries of campaigning and the dangers of daily warfare, such letters as those of Alice Lisle certainly must have had that effect. After expressing her delight for Stuart's success and safety in a manner and delicacy of style peculiarly her own, she continued thus:

'And so you are really now a captain, and knight of a military order? Oh Heaven! I can scarcely believe it, even when your name appears in the army list. How short a time has elapsed since you used to harry the nests of the eagle and owl at Tullyisla, among the dark nooks of the old castle, and gather flowers and berries with Louis and me in Strathonan! You well know, dear Ronald, that no one rejoices more than Alice Lisle at your rapid promotion, but indeed I think it very horrid to owe one's advancement to the death of one's friends, and I see that a sad alteration has taken place among the officers of the Gordon Highlanders since the battle of the Pyrenees. The joy I now feel in the knowledge of your—alas! only temporary—safety and good fortune, will scarcely counterbalance the agony of mind I experienced when the news of Vittoria arrived, and your name appeared in the list of wounded. Papa concealed the papers from me for some days, but I heard it from my foster-sister, Jessie Cavers, and until your letters, dated from the "Maya camp," reached us, my anxiety and perturbation of spirit were quite indescribable. What was thought of your danger by the people up the glen at Lochisla I really know not, but the whole country-side was in an uproar in honour of the victory. The banner was displayed from the tower, a huge bonfire blazed on the summit of Craigonan, and the two old cannon on the bartizan were kept booming away the livelong night, greatly to the terror of all the old ladies within ten miles, who supposed that Buonaparte in person had come up the Tay, and landed a host of bewhiskered grenadiers on the Inches of Perth. The noise of the cannon alarmed others, too. The militia, the fencibles, and the volunteers got under arms; many of the chiefs north of this began to muster their people, and the whole country was in a state of commotion. Your father gave a dinner to his kin and tenantry, and dancing, drinking, and piping were kept up, I believe, in the old hall until the morning sun shone down the glen upon them.'

Rolled up in his cloak, Ronald sat sipping his brandy-and-water, while by the light of a streaming candle he conned. over the letter, so much absorbed in its contents as to forget everything around him, until the report of a musket, fired by the sentinel outside the block-house, caused him to start and leap to his feet as if he had received an electric shock.

'The French, and in this frosty night!' exclaimed Macpherson, leaping up from the ground, on which he had been fast asleep. ' Now the devil confound them, they might have chosen daylight for their visit. Come, Stuart, leave your love-letter,—it can scarcely be anything else, as you have been reading it all night,—leave it, and attend to your command, or Wellington will be issuing such another order anent love letters as he gave us about the wild pigs at Alba.

'We receive more reprehensions than rewards from headquarters, certainly. But where are the French?

'Among the hills?'

'Close by, man!'

'In force, too!' added Chisholm, a smart little sub, who had been watching them from a loophole. 'There will be heads broken in ten minutes'

'I believe you, my boy!' answered Evan Macpherson (a tall fellow, with thick black curly hair and keen dark eye), as he adjusted his sword belt. 'They are in force enough to put us all to our mettle.'

'Stand to your arms, men!' said Ronald; but the order was needless, every man being at his post. 'Be bold of heart, my lads !' he added, as he watched the advancing enemy. ' We shall soon be succoured.'

'Not likely,' said Macpherson bluntly, 'with all due deference to you, Stuart. Mina, the guerilla chief, with his followers, is far down the mountains, and General Walker's brigade is scarcely within gunshot; so we may fight till daylight without aid.'

'Or till doomsday,' retorted Stuart, 'if the logs hold together; and the ammunition lasts. Blow, Macvurich,' said he to the piper; 'give us "Roderick Mhic Alpain Dubh," and blow till the logs shake around us.' The night was clear, the moon shone brightly, and from their loopholes they saw the French advancing in considerable force—probably two thousand strong. Their dark figures, enveloped in loose great-coats, were seen distinctly dotting the pure white covering of the mountainside, up the slippery ascent of which they were toiling with infinite labour. 'They are advancing in extended order,' observed Stuart, 'for fear of our sending them a cannon-shot, probably.'

'Which shows they know nothing about our position.' 'Certes,' said Chisholm, 'they are no economists of their persons, to advance upon us over such open ground. They are chasseurs, probably. The moon shines brightly, yet no appointments glitter about them.'

'Soult is a most indefatigable fool,' said Stuart. 'He causes his soldiers to fight needlessly. Poor fellows! they must obey their orders; but what benefit is gained, even if this solitary picket is cut off? The actions at the Pyrenees and before Pampeluna might have taught the "Lieutenant of the Emperor" a little experience.'

'I dare say,' said Macpherson, 'they are within range now.' 'Well, then, we will enjoy some shooting with them,' replied his captain. 'Line the loopholes—aim steadily; every bullet is worth its weight in gold to-night. They are twenty to one, but care not for that! Help is at hand.'

'Get into yer places, lads,' said Sergeant Duncan Macrone, 'and mind ye ta level low, and gie them ta cauld kail o' Vittoria het again. Got pless us; but this nicht is cauld eneuch ta freeze ta fery Ness.'

The discharge of forty muskets almost shook the frail block-house to pieces ; and while those soldiers who had fired withdrew to reload, forty others took their places; and thus a rapid and constant fire was maintained against the enemy, blazing around the redoubt, and flashing incessantly from every loophole. The summit of the hill was enveloped in clouds of smoke streaked with red fire, and the echoes of the musketry sounded like peals of thunder, booming through the clear atmosphere and echoing among the surrounding peaks. Deadly execution was done among the advancing foe, whose killed and wounded were seen lying prostrate on the frozen snow and marking the route up the hill by a series of black spots. Nevertheless, although their numbers were diminishing at every step, the main body continued to advance with unabated ardour, formed in a wide half-circle at extended order, returning as well as they could the fire of the adversaries, upon whose place of concealment their shot came every instant, tearing away huge splinters or sinking deep into the stockade with a dull heavy sound ; but only a single bullet, during a hot contest of two hours, entered the block-house.

It passed through a loophole, and wounded a Highlander named Allan Warristoun in the neck, passing through his leather stock, and he sunk on the ground bleeding profusely; but Chisholm attempted to stanch the blood, by dressing the wound as well as circumstances would permit. This was the only casualty that occurred during that Bight's skirmish, but terrible execution was done among the enemy. They were kept completely at bay, until they became wearied and disheartened by the slaughter made among them. The light company being excellent marksmen, every shot they fired told fatally on the assailants, at whom they could aim unseen with the utmost coolness and precision. After enduring that sort of work for nearly two hours, they retired with the utmost expedition on perceiving a strong body of Spanish guerillas advancing up the mountains from the village of Roncesvalles. A little farther off was seen the brigade of General Walker, which the noise of the firing had summoned to arms; but their appearance was needless, as the conflict was over.

'Here comes Mina,—the king of Navarre!' exclaimed Stuart, as the great mob of guerillas came rushing up the mountains with shouts of ' Viva Ferdinand!Long live Spain!' etc. 'Cease firing, lads, and let the French retreat. Poor devils ! we have mauled them sadly. They are lying as thick as blackberries on the hillside.' In less than half an hour the French had disappeared, and the block-house was surrounded by the bold guerillas, their appetite for blood and plunder having been keenly whetted by the report of the musketry.

'Let those who have watches and any loose pesetas in their purses, look well to them,' said Chisholm, laughing. 'Here come the honest soldiers of General Mina, who is said to be often a little upon the picaro
himself.'

'The licht-fingered loon will be waur than ony warlock, gin he gets his neive into my sporran molloch!' said Iverach, clasping the fox's mouth of his Highland purse.

'Or mine,' said Sergeant Macrone. 'Ta will pe gettin plenty cauld iron, but no a prass podle frae me, Got tarn!'

'The bonnets! the bonnets! Gude guide us, look at the blue bonnets!' exclaimed the Highlanders, astonished at the head-dress of the Biscayan guerillas, who wore flat blue caps, like those of the Scottish peasantry. Daylight had now dawned, and withdrawing the barricading from the door of the picket-house, Stuart issued forth amidst the guerillas, who were busy stripping the French; and long practice had rendered their fingers so nimble, that in ten minutes the numerous bodies lying strewed around the position were, like those at Maya, denuded of every article of clothing. Many of the wounded were also stripped, and perished miserably on the frozen snow. Like all the Spanish peasantry, the guerillas were stout and handsome men, from Guipuscoa, Alava, and Biscaya. Nearly all wore the zamarra, or jacket of black sheep-skin, knee breeches, and abarcas, or shoes of hog-skin tied to the feet like sandals. All wore the broad Basque cap, and were armed to the teeth with muskets, pistols, pikes, poniards, and offensive weapons of every kind, which, with their huge whiskers and moustaches, gave them the appearance of a desperate horde of banditti. Their language, the Lingua Basconcado, or Bascuence, as the Spaniards name it, sounded strange to the ear of Ronald, who had been accustomed to the pure and senorous language of the Castiles. That of the Basques, according to their own account, existed before the building of the tower of Babel, and was brought into Spain by Jubal,—an assertion somewhat difficult to prove.

Coming from amidst his plundering followers, the celebrated Mina advanced towards Ronald Stuart. His dress was in no way different from that of. his followers, save that a pair of gay French epaulettes adorned his sheep-skin jacket, and a black ostrich feather floated from the band of his sombrero over his left shoulder. Pasted upon his shoulder-belt was a picture of the Virgin Mary, and a golden image of the same personage hung round his neck. He was accoutred with sword and dagger, and carried a short carbine in his hand, the ammunition for which was in a cartouch-box on his left side, balanced on his right by a copper bugle, for summoning his followers. He had a fine open countenance, of a very mild and prepossessing expression, quite different from what Stuart expected to find in the leader of many thousand guerillas.

The following description (taken from a journal of the period of which I write) will best illustrate his character to the reader: 'Espoz y Mina was at this time between twenty and thirty years old, and his frame, both of body and mind, had received the stamp which the circumstances of his country required. When he lies down at night, it is always with his pistols in his girdle ; and on the few nights that he ever passes under a roof, the door is well secured. Two hours' sleep is sufficient for him. When his shirt is dirty, he goes to the nearest house, and changes it with the owner for a clean one. He makes his own powder in a cave among the mountains, and has his hospital in a mountain village, which the French have repeatedly attempted to surprise, but always unsuccessfully, for the hearts of the whole country are with Mina. He receives intelligence of every movement of the enemy, and on the first tidings of danger the villagers carry the sick and wounded upon litters on their shoulders into the fastnesses, where they remain in perfect security till the baffled enemy retires. The alcaldes of every village, when they are ordered by the French to make any requisition, must instantly inform Mina; if they fail in this duty, he goes himself in the night, seizes them in their beds, and shoots them.'

Although not above five-and-twenty, the hard service he had seen, in this irregular mode of warfare, made him seem much older. Mina was the idol of the Spanish people, who styled him the King of Navarre, and extolled his deeds beyond those of the Cid, or the most famous knights of Spanish chivalry and romance. Mina was a true patriot, and the Hoffer of the Spaniards. Although his guerillas were well drilled, and consisted of ten or twelve battalions, which he ruled with a rod of iron, he never restrained them from plundering the French. On his approach, Ronald raised his bonnet in greeting the great guerilla chief,—for though he was originally but a humble farmer of Pampeluna, yet Francisco . Mina had the heart of a hero and was brave as a lion.

'Senor Capitan, said he, bowing profoundly, after the most approved Spanish manner, 'we have been somewhat late in coming to your rescue; but the fire of your soldiers >has told superbly, and the base ladrones lie here pretty thick. The old proverb should be changed to—"the more French, the more gain for us." However, I never put my own hands to a man after he is dead; the plunder I leave to my followers,—'tis all their pay, poor fellows ; and Our Lady del Pilar knows that they earn it hard.' 'A mode of payment I very little admire,' said Stuart, with a smile. 'But I trust, Senor Francisco, that your people will see them buried after this unharnessing is over?'

'Satanas seize us if we bury a hair of their heads!' exclaimed the guerilla vehemently. 'Pho! Senor Cavalier, you forget yourself. They are only Frenchmen; and what say the priests every day,—"Love all mankind but Frenchmen, who are the spawn of hell!" They lie under the ban of his holiness the Pope, and with this excuse three hundred unfrocked friars serve in my band,—and brave fellows they are as ever grasped hilt! But as for the soldiers of the Corsican tyrant, they may feast the wolves of the mountains or the birds of the air, for aught that Mina cares about the matter.'

He now unslung a huge leathern flask of aguardiente from his sash, and after giving Stuart and his subs each a draught, he handed the rest to Sergeant Macrone, to distribute among the light company. Macrone gave his best bow, and carried off the flask, with many a wish that 'Got might pless her honour's ainsel, and gie her lots o' ta sneeshin and ta gude Ferintosh!' To the good wishes of Macrone, Mina replied only by a stare, without comprehending a syllable. He next gave some cigars to each of the officers, saying, at the same time, that it was no compliment to present them with what cost him nothing, one of his guerillas having found them in a Frenchman's haversack.

'But they are prime cigars, senores, and from the manufactory at Guadalaxara, in Mexico,' said he, lighting one adroitly by means of flashing powder in the pan of one of his pistols. 'Excellent!' continued he, puffing away with an air of satisfaction which would have driven the royal author of the 'Counterblaste' to his wits'-end. 'Excellent, indeed, par Diez! And I ought to be a judge, senores, having smoked some hundred thousands in my time; and though but a poor peasant, who dug the earth and planted cabbages at Pampeluna, I am descended in a direct line from the noble cavalier Don Hernandez de Toledo, who, in 1559, introduced the famous leaf into Europe, from the province of Tabaca, in San Domingo.'

'Truly, Senor Espoz y Mina, your worthy ancestor deserves the gratitude of his countrymen,' said Chisholm, in a tone of raillery. ' He contrived a very agreeable amusement for them. From day-dawn to sunset they do little else than draw smoke into their mouths and watch it curling out again.'

Mina fixed his keen dark eye with a glance of displeasure upon Chisholm's good-natured countenance, but made no reply to him.

'Juan de la Roca!' cried he, in a voice like thunder, while he struck his foot impatiently on the frozen snow.

'Senor?' answered a childish voice; and a tall Spanish boy about sixteen years of age stood before him. This mere child fought in the band of Mina. He was esteemed the bravest among them, and always led their advanced guard, and his name had been blazoned forth in all the Gacetas of the country, 'Bring the spy before us.'

The boy, Juan de la Roca, who was armed like his comrades with pistols and carbine, dragged forward a peasant, whose arms were bound with cords behind him. The poor wretch trembled violently when the proud stern eye of Mina fell upon him.

'This is a notorious spy, senores,' said he, 'whom we captured on our way up the mountains. Now, Senor Picaro, what have you to say that you should not die?'

The spy never raised his eyes, and maintained a dogged silence.

'Brand him, Juan!' exclaimed Mina. 'Place the mark of Cain upon his forehead, that every true Spaniard may shun, abhor, and shrink from him!'

The young savage, whom practice had rendered expert at the operation, unsheathed his dagger, and cut off the ear of the captive, from whom a deep imprecation escaped. Juan then thrust into the picket-fire in the block-house, an iron brand, just such as those used for marking barrels, etc. It bore the words 'Viva Mina!' in letters half an inch square. Four powerful guerillas grasped the head of the spy, holding him so that it was impossible he could move. When the brand was red-hot La Roca pressed it upon his brow, the flesh of which was roasted and scorched, under the terrible operation, in a moment. The miserable being writhed and shrieked in agony. He burst from his torturers, and buried his face in the snow; then starting up with the yell of a fiend he rushed down the mountains like a madman, and disappeared.

'Now, senores,' said Mina, 'I have inflicted upon him a punishment worse than death, because those marks can never be effaced. I mark every traitor thus, that my countrymen may know and despise them. Those who are thus branded are ashamed to look a Spaniard in the face, and, being compelled to dwell in solitary places, are often found dead of want among the mountains. But I must now make my adieus, and return to Roncesvalles, where my five thousand followers are to be reviewed today, by Lord Wellington and General Morillo.'

He blew a blast on his horn to collect his people, and taking farewell of the Capitan de Cazadores (as he named Stuart), withdrew in the direction of the famous pass of Roncesvalles, leaving the bodies of the French lying stripped to the skin amidst the snow. As soon as they had departed, Stuart ordered out the light company with shovels, to entomb the bodies; but so deep was the snow, that temporary graves in its frail substance only could be given, as there was not time to dig down to reach the earth. Many were found on the point of death, the intense cold finishing what the bullet had begun, and their gravediggers had to await, shovel in hand, the moment of dissolution; after which they buried, and heaped the snow hurriedly over them. But a thaw came a short time before the position on the heights was abandoned, and the remains of the unfortunates were again exposed, and at a time when no interment could be given them, as the British forces were on the march to invade the ' sacred territory' of la belle France.

The success of Sir Thomas Graham at San Sebastian, which he boldly won by storm on the 31st of August, the fall of Pampeluna, which, on the 31st of October, surrendered to Don Carlos de Espana, and the successful passage of the Bidassoa, infused the highest ardour into the heart of every soldier in the allied army, and every regiment longed to unfurl its triumphant banners to the winds of France. Although the French maintained their ancient renown in arms by fighting to the last, yet they were driven from all their intrenched camps on the Lower Pyrenees, and combating every rood of ground, retired on the 16th of November, to the left bank of the Nive, and there encamped, after blowing up the bridge to prevent the British crossing the river, which at that time was swollen to thrice its usual size by the melting of the snow on the hills, and by a long continuance of rain.

The allies encamped on the Spanish side of the river, and hostilities ceased for a time. The Gordon Highlanders occupied the French village of Cambo, in the department of the Lower Pyrenees, and close to the river Nive. Its inhabitants had all fled on the advance of the allies, crossing to the left bank with the retiring forces of their emperor. The camps and bivouacs of the French lay close to those of their enemies, divided only by the narrow space of the river, and the sentries on each side were but ten or fifteen yards distant from each other. From dawn until sunset the French sergeants were heard continually drilling their squads of conscripts, twenty thousand of whom Buonaparte had dragged away from their quiet homes, and marched to the Nive to be drilled in the view of that veteran army, which had driven the flower of the soldiers of France from one end of the Peninsula to the other. Day after day the French non-commissioned officers were seen, cane in hand, getting the poor peasant-boys into some state of discipline. The British used to crowd to the river's edge to view the novel sight of French regiments on their parade, and beholding them go through the maniement des armes, or manual exercise, with all the minuteness common to the French,—the adjutant giving, after ever word of command, the continual cautions, 'un, deux, trois, quatre!'

At one part, where the river was very narrow, a soldier of the 3rd Buffs, when on sentry one day, found himself immediately opposite to a French grenadier, placed on the same duty on the left bank of the river. The Gaul was a rough-whiskered fellow, wearing the usual service-like great-coat, red epaulettes, and high fur-cap of the Imperial Guard. The sentinels had been staring steadily at each other for some time; and the Buff, who had begun to imagine the face of the Frenchman was not unknown to him, was considerably astonished to hear him ask the question: 'Well, Tom, old fellow! How are the dirty old Buffs coming on? This rogue was a comrade of his own, who, a year or two before, had deserted to the enemy, and had the cool impudence to hail his old friend thus from the French side of the Nive.

On the evening of the 8th of November, the weather being remarkably fine, the French officers sent their bands to the river-side, to play for the entertainment of the British, and many courtesies were interchanged; flasks of wine and bunches of fruit were tossed over by the French, who, avoiding military topics, conversed with soldier-like frankness on other subjects. Ronald took the opportunity to inquire after his old acquaintance, Captain de Mesmai, and was informed that his regiment, the 10th Cuirassiers, was stationed at St. Jean de Luz, near Bayonne. A young officer of chasseurs à cheval said he hoped the British passed their time pleasantly amid the gaieties of Cambo, and with the fair dames of that beautiful city. Stuart replied in the same tone of raillery, that the French ladies had all retired with their countrymen at the sight of the scarlet coats : an answer which evidently piqued monsieur.

In exchange for some London newspapers, containing the despatches of Lord Wellington, detailing the victory of Vittoria, an old major, wearing a dozen medals on his breast, threw across the river a bundle of Parisian Moniteurs, containing the false and very contradictory despatches of King Joseph on the same affair. Some Spanish journals, the Gaceta de la Regencia and the Gaceta de Valencia, they refused to receive, and politely returned. Between deadly enemies, intercourse such as this renders war at once noble and chivalric. By it the heart of the sternest soldier becomes again humanized, and the barbarities incident to his profession are lessened and mitigated.

On the same evening, a remarkable circumstance occurred about a mile above Cambo. A French guard were about to kill a bullock for their rations; but the animal broke loose, and plunging into the stream, swam to the British side, and fell among a picket of the Gordon Highlanders, commanded by Chisholm. By them it was instantly shot, flayed, and cut up; and all were rejoicing in expectation of a savoury meal, when a French soldier, with a white handkerchief displayed on the point of his sword, forded the river; advancing to the picket, he craved, in the name of his comrades, that the flesh might be divided,—adding, that surely les Ecossais would not deprive brothers of the sword of the only meal chance had given them for two days. It was impossible to refuse. Two other soldiers arrived, and they were sent back laden with half the carcass, and their canteens filled with wine, for which the poor fellows seemed very grateful; and one returned, presenting the thanks and compliments of their officer to Chisholm for his kindness. The officers of each army spent the evening in conversing across the river, laughing and jesting like old friends; and when it grew dark, with many adieus they parted, —to meet on the next morning with their swords in their hands.


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast