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not missed my opportunity. Yet there was need to hurry, for I had not
only to fetch a long circuit by difficult paths before striking the
road to the Pyrenees, - I had to find the _partidas_, persuade them,
and get them on to the road ahead of their quarry.

I need not describe my journey at length. I rode by Guarda, Almeida,
Ledesma, keeping to the north of the main road, and travelling, not by
day only, but through the better part of each night. Beyond the ford
of Tordesillas, left for the while unguarded, I was in country where
at any moment I might stumble on the guerilla bands, or at least get
news of them. The chiefs most likely for my purpose were "the three
M's" - the curate Merino, Mina and Mendizabal. Of these, the curate was
about the biggest scoundrel in Spain. I learned on my way that having
lately taken about a hundred prisoners near Aranda, he had hanged the
lot, sixty to avenge three members of the local junta put to death by
the French, and the rest in proportion of ten for every soldier of his
lost in the action. From dealing with such a blackguard I prayed to be
spared. And by all accounts Mina ran him close for brutal ferocity. I
hoped, therefore, for Mendizabal, but at Sedano I heard that Bonnet,
after foiling an attack by him on a convoy above Burgos, had beaten
him into the Asturias, where his scattered bands were now shifting as
best they could among the hills. Merino was in no better case, and
my only hope rested on Mina, who after a series of really brilliant
operations, helped out by some lucky escapes, had on the 7th with
five thousand men planted himself in ambush behind Vittoria, cut up
a Polish regiment, and mastered the same enormous convoy which had
escaped the curate and Mendizabal at Burgos, releasing no less than
four hundred Spanish prisoners and enriching himself to the tune of
a million francs, not to speak of carriages, arms, stores, and a
quantity of church plate.

This was no cheerful hearing, since so much in his pocket must needs
lessen the attractiveness of my offer of twelve thousand francs. And,
indeed, when I found him in his camp above the road a little to the
east of Salvatierra his first answer was to bid me go to the devil.
Although for months he had only supported his troops on English money
conveyed through Sir Howard Douglas, this ignorant fellow snapped his
dirty fingers at the mention of Wellington and, flushed with a casual
triumph, had nothing but contempt for the allied troops who were
saving his country while he and his like wasted themselves on futile
raids. I can see him now as he sat smoking and dangling his legs on a
rock in the midst of his unwashed staff officers.

"For an Englishman," he scoffed, "I won't say but twelve thousand
francs is a high price to pay. Unfortunately, it is no price for my
troops to earn. Here am I expecting at any moment a convoy which is
due from the Valencia side, and Lord Wellington asks me to waste my
men and miss my chance for the sake of a single redcoat. He must be a

Said I, nettled, "For a Spaniard you have certainly acquired a rare
suit of manners. But may I suggest that their rarity will scarcely
prove worth the cost when your answer comes to Lord Wellington's

He glared at me for a moment, during which no doubt he weighed the
temptation of shooting me against the probable risk. Then his features
relaxed into a grin, and withdrawing the chewed cigarette from his
teeth he spat very deliberately on the ground. "The interview," he
announced, "is ended."

I took my way down the hillside in no gay mood. I had travelled far;
my nerves were raw with lack of sleep. I judged myself at least a day
ahead of any convoy with which the captain could be travelling, even
though it had moved with the minimum of delay. But where in the next
two days was I to find the help which Mina had refused? To be sure I
had caught up at Sedano a flying rumour that the curate Merino had
eluded Bonnet, broken out of the Asturias, and was again menacing the
road above Burgos. I had come across no sign of him on my way, yet
could hit on no more hopeful course than to hark back along the road
on the chance of striking the trail of a man who as likely as not was
a hundred miles away.

It was about nine in the morning when Mina gave me his answer, and at
three in the afternoon I was scanning the road towards Miranda de Ebro
from a hill about a mile beyond Arinez (the same hill, in fact, where
General Gazan's centre lay little more than a year afterwards on the
morning of the battle of Vittoria). I had been scanning the road
perhaps for ten minutes when my heart gave a jump and my hand, I
am not ashamed to confess, shook on the small telescope. To the
south-west, between me and Nanclares three horsemen were advancing at
a walk, and the rider in the middle wore a scarlet jacket.

It took me some seconds to get my telescope steady enough for a second
look, and with that I wheeled my horse, struck spur and posted back
towards Salvatierra as fast as the brute would carry me through the
afternoon heat.

I reached Mina's camp again at nightfall, and found the chief seated
exactly as I had left him, still smoking and still dangling his legs.
Were it not that he now wore a cloak against the night air I might
have supposed him seated there all day without stirring, and the guard
who led me to him promised with a grin that I was dangerously near one
of those peculiar modes of death which his master passed his amiable
leisure in inventing.

At the sight of me Mina's eyebrows went up and he chuckled, "Indeed,"
said he, "it has been a dull day, and I have been regretting that I
let you off so easily this morning."

"This morning," I said, "I made you an offer of twelve thousand
francs. You replied that you considered it too little for the services
of your army. Perhaps it was; but you will admit it to be pretty fair
pay for the services of a couple of men."

"Hullo!" He eyed me sharply. "What has happened?"

"That," I answered, "is my secret. Lend me a couple of men, say, for
forty-eight hours. In return, on producing this paper, you receive
twelve thousand francs; that is, as soon as Lord Wellington has
assured himself on my report that you received the paper from me and
did as I requested."

"Two men? This begins to look like business."

"It _is_ business," said I curtly. "To your patriotism I should not
have troubled to appeal a second time."

He warned me to keep a civil tongue in my head; but I knew my man, and
within half-an-hour I rode out of his camp with two of his choicest
ruffians, one beside me and one ahead to guide me through the

Now at Vittoria the road towards Irun and the frontier runs almost due
north for some distance and then bends about in a rough arc towards
the east. Another road runs almost due east from Vittoria to Pamplona.
The first road would certainly be taken by my kinsman and his escort:
Mina's camp lay above the second: but, a little way beyond, at
Alsasua, a third road of about five leagues joins the two, and by this
short cut I was certain of heading off our quarry.

There was no call to hurry. If, as I judged likely, the party meant to
sleep the night at Vittoria, I had almost twenty-four hours in hand.
So we rode warily, on the look-out for French vedettes, and reaching
Beasain a little before two in the morning took up a comfortable
position on the hillside above the junction of the roads.

At dawn we shifted into better shelter - a shepherd's hut, dilapidated
and roofless - and eked out a long day with tobacco and a greasy pack
of cards. A few bullock carts passed along the road below us, the
most of them bound westward, and perhaps half-a-dozen peasants on
mule-back. At about four in the afternoon a French patrol trotted by.
As the evening drew on I began to feel anxious.

A little before sunset I sent off one of my ruffians - Alonso
something-or-other (I forget his magnificent surname) - to scout
along the road. He had been gone half-an-hour when his fellow, Juan
Gallegos, flung down his cards in the dusk - the more readily perhaps
because he held a weak hand - and pricked up his ears.

"Horses!" he whispered, and after a pause nodded confidently. "Three

We picked up our muskets and crept down towards the road. Halfway down
we met Alonso ascending with the news. Yes, there were three horsemen
on this side of Zumarraga and coming at a trot. One of them wore a red

"Be careful, then, how you pick them off. The man in red must not be
hurt; the money depends on that."

They nodded. Night was now falling fast, yet not so fast but that as
the horsemen came up I could distinguish Captain Alan. He was riding
on the left beside the young French officer, the orderly about six
yards behind. As they came abreast of us Juan let fly, and the
orderly's horse pitched forward at once and fell, flinging his man,
who struck the road and lay either stunned or dead. At the noise of
the report the other horses shied violently and separated, thus giving
us our chance without danger to the prisoner. Alonso and I fired
together, and rushed out upon the officer, who groaned in the act of
wheeling upon us. One of the bullets had shattered his sword arm.
Within the minute we had him prisoner, the captain not helping us at

"What is this?" he demanded in Spanish, peering at me out of the dusk
and breaking off to quiet his frightened horse. "What is this, and who
are you?"

"Well, it looks like a rescue," said I; "and I am your kinsman, Manus
McNeill, and have been at some pains to effect it."

"You!" he peered at me. "I thank you," said he, "but you have done a
bad evening's work. I am on parole, as a man so clever as you might
have guessed by the size of my escort."

"We will talk of that later," I answered, and sent Juan and Alonso off
to examine the fallen trooper. "Meanwhile the man here has fainted.
Oblige me by helping him a little way up the hill, or by leading his
horse while I carry him. The road here is not healthy."

Captain Alan followed in silence while I bore my burden up to the hut.
Having tethered the horses outside, he entered and stood above me
while I lit a lantern and examined the young officer's wound.

"Nothing serious," I announced, "a fracture of the forearm and maybe a
splintered bone. I can fix this up in no time."

"You had better leave it to me and run," my kinsman answered. "This
M. Gérard is an amiable young man and a friend of mine, and I charge
myself to see him safe to Tolosa to-night. What are you doing?"

"Searching for his papers."

"I forbid it."

"_Alain mhic Neill_," said I, "you are not yet the head of our clan."
And I broke the seal of a letter addressed to the Governor of Bayonne.
"Ah! I thought as much," I added, having glanced over the missive. "It
seems, my dear kinsman, that my knowledge of the Duke of Ragusa goes
a bit deeper than yours. Listen to this: 'The prisoner I send you
herewith is one Captain McNeill, a spy and a dangerous one, who has
done infinite mischief to our arms. I have not executed him on the
spot out of respect to something resembling an uniform which he wears.
But I desire you to place him at once in irons and send him up to
Paris, where he will doubtless suffer as he deserves' ..."

Captain Alan took the paper from me and perused it slowly, biting his
upper lip the while. "This is very black treachery," said he.

"It acquits you at any rate."

"Of my parole?" He pondered for a moment; then, "I cannot see that it
does," he said. "If the Duke of Ragusa chooses to break an implied
bond with me it does not follow that I can break an explicit promise
to him."

"No? Well, I should have thought it did."

At once my kinsman put on that stiff pedantic tone which had irritated
me at Huerta. "I venture to think," said he, "that no McNeill would
say so unless he had been corrupted by traffic with the Scarlet

"Scarlet grandmother!" I broke out. "You seem to forget that I have
ridden a hundred leagues to effect this rescue, for which, by the way,
Lord Wellington offers twelve thousand francs. I have promised them to
the biggest scoundrel in Spain; but because he happens to be even a
bigger scoundrel than the Duke of Ragusa must I break my bond with him
and let you go to be shot for the sake of your silly punctilio?"

I spoke with heat, and bent over the groaning officer. My kinsman
rubbed his chin. "What you say," he replied, "demands a somewhat
complicated answer, or rather a series of answers. In the first
place, I thank you sincerely for what you have done, and not the less
sincerely because I am going to nullify it. I shall, perhaps, not
cheat myself by believing that a clansman's spirit went some way to
help your zeal" - here I might well have blushed in truth, for it had
not helped my zeal a peseta. "I thank Lord Wellington, too, for the
extravagant price he has set upon my services, and I beg you to convey
my gratitude to him. As for being shot, I might answer that my parole
extends only to the Pyrenees; but I consider myself to have extended
it tacitly to my young friend here, who has treated me with all
possible consideration on the journey; and I shall go to Bayonne."

He spoke quietly and in the most matter-of-fact voice. But I have
often thought since of his words; and often when I call up the figure
of Marmont in exile at Venice, where, as he strode gloomily along the
Riva dei Schiavoni, the very street urchins pointed and cried after
him, "There goes the man who betrayed Napoleon!" I call up and
contrast with it the figure of this humble gentleman of Scotland in
the lonely hut declining simply and without parade to buy his life at
the expense of a scruple of conscience.

"But," he continued, "I fancy I may persuade M. Gérard at least to
delay the delivery of that letter, in which case I see my way at
least to a chance of escape. For the rest, these _partidas_ have been
promised twelve thousand francs for a service which they have duly
rendered. My patrimony is not a rich one, but I can promise that this
sum, whether I escape or not, shall be as duly paid. Hush!" he ended
as I sprang to my feet, and Juan and Alonso appeared in the doorway
supporting the trooper, who had only been stunned after all.

"We did not care to kill him," Juan explained blandly, "until we had
the señor's orders."

"You did rightly," I answered, and glanced at my kinsman. His jaw was
set. I pulled out a couple of gold pieces for each. "An advance on
your earnings," said I. "My orders are that you leave the trooper here
with me, ride back instantly to your chief, report that your work has
been well done and successfully, and the money for which he holds
an order shall be forwarded as soon as I return and report to Lord
Wellington in Beira."



In the course of an eventful life John Penaluna did three very rash

To begin with, at seventeen, he ran away to sea.

He had asked his father's permission. But for fifty years the small
estate had been going from bad to worse. John's grandfather in the
piping days of agriculture had drunk the profits and mortgaged
everything but the furniture. On his death, John's father (who had
enlisted in a line regiment) came home with a broken knee-pan and a
motherless boy, and turned market-gardener in a desperate attempt to
rally the family fortunes. With capital he might have succeeded. But
market-gardening required labour; and he could neither afford to hire
it nor to spare the services of a growing lad who cost nothing but his
keep. So John's request was not granted.

A week later, in the twilight of a May evening, John was digging
potatoes on the slope above the harbour, when he heard - away up the
first bend of the river - the crew of the _Hannah Hands_ brigantine
singing as they weighed anchor. He listened for a minute, stuck his
visgy into the soil slipped on his coat, and trudged down to the

Two years passed without word of him. Then on a blue and sunny day
in October he emerged out of Atlantic fogs upon the Market Strand at
Falmouth: a strapping fellow with a brown and somewhat heavy face,
silver rings in his ears, and a suit of good sea-cloth on his back. He
travelled by van to Truro, and thence by coach to St. Austell. It was
Friday - market day; and in the market he found his father standing
sentry, upright as his lame leg allowed, grasping a specimen
apple-tree in either hand. John stepped up to him, took one of the
apple-trees, and stood sentry beside him. Nothing was said - not a
word until John found himself in the ramshackle market-cart, jogging
homewards. His father held the reins.

"How's things at home?" John asked.

"Much as ever. Hester looks after me."

Hester was John's cousin, the only child of old Penaluna's only
sister, and lately an orphan. John had never seen her.

"If I was you," said he, "I'd have a try with borrowed capital. You
could raise a few hundreds easy. You'll never do anything as you'm

"If I was you," answered his father, "I'd keep my opinions till they
was asked for."

And so John did, for three years; in the course of which it is to
be supposed he forgot them. When the old man died he inherited
everything; including the debts, of course. "He knows what I would
have him do by Hester," said the will. It went on: "Also I will not
be buried in consicrated ground, but at the foot of the dufflin
apple-tree in the waste piece under King's Walk, and the plainer the
better. In the swet of thy face shalt thou eat bread, amen. P.S. - John
knows the tree."

But since by an oversight the will was not read until after the
funeral, this wish could not be carried out. John resolved to attend
to the other all the more scrupulously; and went straight from the
lawyer to the kitchen, where Hester stood by the window scouring a
copper pan.

"Look here," he said, "the old man hasn' left you nothing."

"No?" said Hester. "Well, I didn't expect anything." And she went on
with her scouring.

"But he've a-left a pretty plain hint o' what he wants me to do."

He hesitated, searching the calm profile of her face. Hester's face
was always calm, but her eyes sometimes terrified him. Everyone
allowed she had wonderful eyes, though no two people agreed about
their colour. As a matter of fact their colour was that of the sea,
and varied with the sea. And all her life through they were searching,
unceasingly searching, for she knew not what - something she never had
found, never would find. At times, when talking with you, she would
break off as though words were of no use to her, and her eyes had to
seek your soul on their own account. And in those silences your soul
had to render up the truth to her, though it could never be the truth
she sought. When at length her gaze relaxed and she remembered and
begged pardon (perhaps with a deprecatory laugh), you sighed; but
whether on her account or yours it was impossible to say.

John looked at her awkwardly, and drummed with one foot on the limeash

"He wanted you to marry me," he blurted out. "I - I reckon I've wanted
that, too ... oh, yes, for a long time!"

She put both hands behind her - one of them still grasped the
polishing-cloth - came over, and gazed long into his face.

"You mean it," she said at length. "You are a good man. I like you. I
suppose I must."

She turned - still with her hands behind her - walked to the window, and
stood pondering the harbour and the vessels at anchor and the rooks
flying westward. John would have followed and kissed her, but divined
that she wished nothing so little. So he backed towards the door, and
said -

"There's nothing to wait for. 'Twouldn't do to be married from the
same house, I expect. I was thinking - any time that's agreeable - if
you was to lodge across the harbour for awhile, with the
Mayows - Cherry Mayow's a friend of yours - we could put up the banns
and all shipshape."

He found himself outside the door, mopping his forehead.

This was the second rash thing that John Penaluna did.


It was Midsummer Eve, and a Saturday, when Hester knocked at the
Mayows' green door on the Town Quay. The Mayows' house hung over the
tideway, and the _Touch-me-not_ schooner, home that day from Florida
with a cargo of pines, and warped alongside the quay, had her foreyard
braced aslant to avoid knocking a hole in the Mayows' roof.

A Cheap Jack's caravan stood at the edge of the quay. The Cheap Jack
was feasting inside on fried ham rasher among his clocks and mirrors
and pewter ware; and though it wanted an hour of dusk, his assistant
was already lighting the naphtha-lamps when Hester passed.

Steam issued from the Mayows' doorway, which had a board across it
to keep the younger Mayows from straggling. A voice from the steam
invited her to come in. She climbed over the board, groped along the
dusky passage, pushed open a door and looked in on the kitchen, where,
amid clouds of vapour, Mrs. Mayow and her daughter Cherry were washing
the children. Each had a tub and a child in it; and three children,
already washed, skipped around the floor stark naked, one with a long
churchwarden pipe blowing bubbles which the other two pursued. In the
far corner, behind a deal table, sat Mr. Mayow, and patiently tuned a
fiddle - a quite hopeless task in that atmosphere.

"My gracious!" Mrs. Mayow exclaimed, rising from her knees; "if it
isn't Hester already! Amelia, get out and dry yourself while I make a
cup of tea."

Hester took a step forward, but paused at a sound of dismal bumping on
the staircase leading up from the passage.

"That's Elizabeth Ann," said Mrs. Mayow composedly, "or Heber, or
both. We shall know when they get to the bottom. My dear, you must be
perishing for a cup of tea. Oh, it's Elizabeth Ann! Cherry, go and
smack her, and tell her what I'll do if she falls downstairs again.
It's all Matthew Henry's fault." Here she turned on the naked urchin
with the churchwarden pipe. "If he'd only been home to his time - "

"I was listening to Zeke Penhaligon," said Matthew Henry (aged eight).
"He's home to-day in the _Touch-me-not_."

"He's no good to King nor country," said Mrs. Mayow.

"He was telling me about a man that got swallowed by a whale - "

"Go away with your Jonahses!" sneered one of his sisters.

"It wasn't Jonah. This man's name was Jones - _Captain_ Jones, from
Dundee. A whale swallowed him; but, as it happened, the whale had
swallowed a cask just before, and the cask stuck in its stomach. So
whatever the whale swallowed after that went into the cask, and did
the whale no good. But Captain Jones had plenty to eat till he cut his
way out with a clasp-knife - "

"How _could_ he?"

"That's all you know. Zeke _says_ he did. A whale always turns that way
up when he's dying. So Captain Jones cut his way into daylight, when,
what does he see but a sail, not a mile away! He fell on his knees - "

"How could he, you silly? He'd have slipped."

But at this point Cherry swept the family off to bed. Mrs. Mayow,
putting forth unexpected strength, carried the tubs out to the
back-yard, and poured the soapy water into the harbour. Hester, having
borrowed a touzer,[A] tucked up her sleeves and fell to tidying the
kitchen. Mr. Mayow went on tuning his fiddle. It was against his
principles to work on a Saturday night.

[Footnote A: _Tout-serve_, apron.]

"Your wife seems very strong," observed Hester, with a shade of
reproach in her voice.

"Strong as a horse," he assented cheerfully. "I call it wonnerful
after what she've a-gone through. 'Twouldn' surprise me, one o' these
days, to hear she'd taken up a tub with the cheeld in it, and heaved
cheeld and all over the quay-door. She's terrible absent in her mind."

Mrs. Mayow came panting back with a kettleful of water, which she set
to boil; and, Cherry now reappearing with the report that all the
children were safe abed, the three women sat around the fire awaiting
their supper, and listening to the voice of the Cheap Jack without.

"We'll step out and have a look at him by-and-by," said Cherry.

"For my part," Mrs. Mayow murmured, with her eyes on the fire, "I
never hear one of those fellers without wishing I had a million of
money. There's so many little shiny pots and pans you could go on
buying for ever and ever, just like Heaven!"

She sighed as she poured the boiling water into the teapot. On
Saturday nights, when the children were packed off, a deep peace
always fell upon Mrs. Mayow, and she sighed until bed-time, building
castles in the air.

Their supper finished, the two girls left her to her musings and

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Online LibraryArthur Thomas Quiller-CouchThe Laird's Luck and Other Fireside Tales → online text (page 10 of 19)