Read CHAPTER XXIII. - IN CIUDAD RODRIGO. of The Adventures of Harry Revel , free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on ReadCentral.com.

Two days later our breaching batteries opened on the town.

It is not for me to describe this wonderful siege, the operations of which, though witnessing them in part, I did not understand in the least.  I have read more than one book about it since, and could draw you a map blindfold and tell you where the counter-batteries stood, and where the lunette which Colborne carried, and how far behind it lay the Convent of San Francisco; where the parallels ran, where the French brought down a howitzer, and where by a sortie they came near to cutting up a division.  I could trace you the fausse braye and the main walls, and put my finger on the angle where our guns pierced the greater breach, and carry it across to the tower where, by the lesser breach, our own storming-party of the Light Division climbed into the town.  During the next five days I saw a many things shattered to lay the foundations of a fame which still is proved the sounder the closer men examine it ­I mean Lord Wellington’s:  and in the end I, Harry Revel, contributed my mite to it in a splintered ankle.  I understand now many things which were then a mere confused hurly-burly:  and even now ­having arrived at an age when men take stock of themselves and, casting up their accounts with life, cross out their vanities ­I am proud to remember that along with the great Craufurd, Mackinnon, Vandeleur, Colborne our Colonel, and Napier, I took my unconsidered hurt.  To this day you cannot speak the name of Ciudad Rodrigo to me but I hear my own bugle chiming with the rest below the breaches and swelling the notes of the advance, and my heart swells with it.  But I tell you strictly what I saw, and I tell it for this reason only ­that the story to which you have been listening points through those breaches, and within them has its end.

To me, watching them day by day from the hillside, they appeared but trifling gaps in the fortifications.  On the 19th I never dreamed that they were capable of assault; indeed, in the lesser breach to the left my inexpert eyes could detect no gap at all.  What chiefly impressed me at this time was our enemy’s superiority in ammunition.  Their guns fired at least thrice to our once.

Still holding myself strictly to what I saw, I can tell you even less of the assault itself.  I can tell, indeed, how, on the evening of the 19th, when we were looking forward to another turn at the trenches with the Third Division, General Craufurd unexpectedly paraded us; and how, at a nod from him, Major Napier addressed us.  “Men of the Light Division,” he said, “we assault to-night.  I have the honour to lead the storming party, and I want a hundred volunteers from each regiment.  Those who will go with me, step forward.”

Instantly the battalions surged forward ­the press of the volunteers carrying us with them as if we would have marched on Ciudad Rodrigo with one united front.

The Major flung up a hand and turned to General Craufurd.  Their eyes met, and they both broke out laughing.

This much I saw and heard.  And when, at six o’clock, they marched us down under the lee of San Francisco, I saw Lord Wellington ride up, dismount, give over his horse to an orderly and walk past our column into the darkness.  He was going to give the last directions to Major Napier and the storming party:  but they were drawn up behind an angle of the convent wall; and we, the supporting columns, massed in the darkness two hundred yards in the rear, neither saw the conference nor caught more than the high clear tones of Craufurd addressing his men for the last time.

Then, after many minutes of silence, suddenly the sky over the convent wall opened with a glare and shut again, and we heard the French guns tearing the night.  The attack of the Third Division on our right had begun, and the noise of it was taken up by the 95th riflemen, spread wide in three companies to scour the fausse braye between the two breaches, and keep the defenders busy along it.  As the sound of the assault spread down to us, interrupted again and again by the explosion of shells, we were marched forward for two or three hundred yards and halted, put into motion and halted again.  We could see the city now, opening and shutting upon us in fiery flashes; and, in the intervals, jet after jet of fire streamed from the rifles on our right.

Then someone shouted to us to advance at the double, and I ran blowing upon my bugle, for now the calls were sounding all about me.  I had no thought of death in all this roar ­the crowd seemed to close around and shut that out ­until we came to the edge of the counterscarp facing the fausse braye:  and by that time the worst of the danger had passed.  The fausse braye itself was dark, and the darker for a blaze of light behind it.  Our stormers had carried it and swept the defenders back into the true breach beside the tower.  Some stray bullets splashed among us as we toppled down the ditch and mounted the scarp ­shots fired from Heaven knows where, but probably from some French retreating along the top of the fausse braye.

While we were mounting the scarp Napier and his men must have carried the inner breach.  At the top we thronged to squeeze through the narrow entrance, for all the world like a crowd elbowing its way into a theatre:  and as I pressed into the skirts of the throng it seemed to suck me in and choke me.  My small ribs caved inwards as we were driven through by the weight of men behind.  The pressure eased, and an explosion threw a dozen of us to earth between the fausse braye and the slope of rubble by which the stormers had climbed.

I picked myself up ­gripped my bugle ­and ran for the slope, still blowing.  A man of the 43rd gave me a hand and helped me up, for now we were stumbling among corpses.  What had become of the stormers?  Some we were trampling under foot:  the rest had swept on and into the town.

“Fifty-second to the left,” said my friend as we gained the top of the rampart, catching up a cry which now sounded everywhere in the darkness.  “Forty-third to the right ­fifty-second to the left!” I turned sharply to the left and ran from him.

A rush of men overtook me.  “This way!” they shouted, swerving aside from the line of the ramparts and sliding down the steep inner slope towards the town.  They were mad for loot, but in my ignorance I supposed them to be obeying orders, and I turned aside and clambered down after them.

We crossed a roadway and plunged into a dark and deserted street at the foot of which shone a solitary lamp.  Then I learned what my comrades were after.  The first door they came to they broke down with their musket-butts.  An old man was crouching behind it; and, dragging him out, they tossed him from one to another, jabbing at him with their bayonets.  I ran on, shutting my ears to his screams.

I was alone now; and, as it seemed, in a forsaken town.  Here and there a light shone beneath a house-door or through the chinks of a shutter.  I felt that behind the windows I passed Ciudad Rodrigo was awake and waiting for its punishment.  Behind me, along the ramparts, the uproar still continued.  But the town, here and for the moment, I had to myself:  and it was waiting, trembling to know what my revenge would be.

I came next to a small open square; and was crossing it, when in the corner on my right a door opened softly, showing a lit passage within, and a moment later was as softly shut.  Scarcely heeding, I ran on; my feet sounding sharply on the frozen cobbles.  And with that a jet of light leapt from under the door-sill across the narrow pavement, almost between my legs:  and I pitched headlong, with a shattered foot.

Doubtless I fainted with the pain:  for it could not have been ­as it seemed ­only a minute later that I opened my eyes to find the square crowded and bright with the glare of two burning houses.  A herd of bellowing oxen came charging past the gutter where I lay, pricked on by a score of redcoats yelling in sheer drunkenness as they flourished their bayonets.  Two or three of them wore monks’ robes flung over their uniforms, and danced idiotically, holding their skirts wide.  I supposed it had been raining, for a flood ran through the gutter and over my broken ankle.  In the light of the conflagration it showed pitch black, and by and by I knew it for wine flowing down from a whole cellarful of casks which a score of madmen were broaching as they dragged them forth from a house on the upper side of the square.  A child ­he could not have been more than four years old ­ran screaming by me.  From a balcony right overhead a soldier shot at him, missed, and laughed uproariously.  Then he reloaded and began firing among the bullocks, now jammed and goring one another at the entrance of a narrow alley.  And his shots seemed to be a signal for a general salvo of random musketry.  I saw a woman cross the roadway with a rifleman close behind her; he swung up his rifle, holding it by the muzzle, and clubbed her between the shoulders with the butt.

All night these scenes went by me ­these and scenes of which I cannot write; unrolled in the blaze of the houses which burnt on, as little regarded as I who lay in my gutter and watched them to the savage unending music of yells, musketry, and the roar of flames.

In the height of it my ear caught the regular footfall of troops, and a squad of infantry came swinging round the corner.  I supposed it to be a patrol sent to clear the streets and restore order.  A small man in civilian dress ­a Portuguese, by his look ­walked gingerly beside the sergeant in charge, chatting and gesticulating.  And, almost in the same instant, I perceived that the men wore the uniform of the North Wilts and that the sergeant he held in converse was George Leicester.

By the light of the flames he recognised me, shook off his guide and stepped forward.

“Hurt?” he asked.  “Here, step out, a couple of you, and take hold of this youngster.  He’s a friend of mine, and I’ve something to show him:  something that will amuse him, or I’m mistaken.”

They hoisted me, not meaning to be rough, but hurting me cruelly nevertheless:  and two of them made a “chair” with crossed hands; but they left my wounded foot dangling, and I swooned again with pain.

When I came to, we were in a street ­dark but for their lanterns ­ between a row of houses and a blank wall, and against this wall they were laying me.  The houses opposite were superior to any I had yet seen in Ciudad Rodrigo and had iron balconies before their first-floor windows, broad and deep and overhanging the house-doors.

On one of these doors Leicester was hammering with his side-arm, the Portuguese standing by on the step below.  No one answering, he called to two of his men, who advanced and, setting the muzzles of their muskets close against the keyhole, blew the door in.  Leicester snatched a lantern and sprang inside, the two men after him.  The Portuguese waited.  The rest of the soldiers waited too, grounding arms ­some in the roadway, others by the wall at the foot of which they had laid me.

A minute passed ­two minutes ­and then with a crash a man sprang through one of the first-floor windows, flung a leg over the balcony rail, and hung a moment in air between the ledge and the street.  The window through which he had broken was flung up and Leicester came running after, grabbing at him vainly as he swung clear.

There were two figures now on the balcony.  A woman had run after Leicester.  She leaned for a moment with both hands on the balcony rail, and turned as if to run back.  Leicester caught her around the waist and held her so while she screamed ­shrilly, again and again.

The man dangled for a moment, dropped with a horrible thud, and answered with one scream only ­but it was worse even than hers to hear.  Then the soldiers ran forward and flung themselves upon him.

“Hold the lantern higher, you fools!” shouted Leicester, straining the woman to him, as she struggled and fought to get away.  “Over there, by the wall ­I want to see his face!  Steady now, my beauty!”

The woman sank in his arms as if fainting, and her screams ceased.  There was a stool on the balcony and he seated himself upon it, easing her down and seating her on his knee.  This brought his evil face level with the balcony rail; and the lanterns, held high, flared up at it.

“Out of the way, youngster!” one of the soldiers commanded grimly.  “That wall’s wanted.”

He dragged me aside as they pulled Whitmore across the roadway.  I think his leg had been broken by the fall.  It trailed as they carried him, and when they set him against the wall it doubled under him and he fell in a heap.

“Turn up his face, anyway,” commanded Leicester from the balcony.  “I want to see it!  And when you’ve done, you can leave me with this beauty.  Hey, my lass?  The show’s waiting.  Sit up and have a look at him!”

I saw Whitmore’s face as they turned it up, and the sight of it made me cover my eyes.  I heard the men step out into the roadway, and set back their triggers.  Crouching against the wall, I heard the volley.

As the echoes of it beat from side to side of the narrow street I looked again ­not towards the wall ­but upwards at the balcony, under which the men waved their lanterns as they dispersed, leaving the corpse where it lay.  To my surprise Leicester had released the woman.  She was stealing back through the open window and I caught but a glimpse of her black head-veil in the wavering lights.  But Leicester still leaned forward with his chin on the balcony rail, and grinned upon the street and the wall opposite.

I dragged myself from the spot.  How long it took me I do not know; for I crawled on my belly, and there were pauses in my progress of which I remember nothing.  But I remember that at some point in it there dawned upon me the certainty that this was the very street down which I had struck on my way from the ramparts.  If not the same street, it must have been one close beside and running parallel with it:  for at daybreak, with no other guidance than this certainty, I found myself back at the breach, nursing my foot and staring stupidly downward at the bodies on the slope.

Across the foot of it a young officer was picking his way slowly in the dawn.  A sergeant followed him with a notebook and pencil, and two men with lanterns.  They were numbering the corpses, halting now and again to turn one over and hold a light to his face, then to his badge.  Half-way down, between them and me, a stink-pot yet smouldered, and the morning air carried a horrible smell of singed flesh.

As the dawn widened, one of the men opened his lantern and blew out the candle within it.  The young officer ­it was Archibald Plinlimmon ­paused in his search and scanned the sky and the ramparts above.  I sent down a feeble hail.

He heard.  His eyes searched along the heaped ruins of gabions, fascines, and dead bodies; and, recognising me, he came slowly up the slope.

“Hallo!” said he.  “Not badly hurt, I hope?  I thought we’d cleared all the wounded.  Where on earth have you come from?”

“From the town, sir.”

“We’ll take you back to it, then.  They’ve rigged up a couple of hospitals, and it’s nearer than camp.  Besides, I doubt if there’s an ambulance left to take you.”  He knelt and examined my foot.  “Hi, there!” he called down.  “You ­O’Leary ­come and help me with this boy!  Hurt badly, does it?  Never mind ­we’ll get you to hospital in ten minutes.  But what on earth brought you crawling back here?”

“Mr. Archibald!” I gasped, “I saw him!”

“Him?”

“Whitmore!”

He stared at me.  “You’re off your head a bit, boy.  You’ll be all right when we get you to hospital.”

“But I saw him, sir!  They shot him ­against the wall.  He was a deserter, and they hunted him out.”

“Well, and what is that to me, if they did?” He turned his face away.  “Isabel, my wife, is dead,” he said slowly.

“Dead?”

“She is dead ­and the child.”

He bowed his face, while I gazed at him incredulous, sick at heart.

“If what you say is true,” he said, lifting his eyes till, weary and desperate, they met mine, “she has been avenged to-night.”

“You shall see,” I promised; and as the two soldiers picked me up and laid me along a plank, I made signs that they were to carry me as I directed.  He nodded, and fell into pace beside my litter.

The body of Whitmore lay along the foot of the wall where it had fallen.  But when we drew near, it was not at the body that I stared, putting out a hand and gripping Archibald Plinlimmon’s arm.

On the balcony opposite, George Leicester still leaned forward and grinned down into the street.

He did not move or glance aside even when Archibald commanded the men to set me down; nor when he passed in at the open door and we waited; nor again when he stepped out on the balcony and called him by name.  The corpse stared down still.  For it was a corpse, with a woman’s bodkin-dagger driven tight home between the shoulder-blades.

And so, by an unknown sister’s hand, Isabel’s wrongs had earthly vengeance.