Read THE TWO SCOUTS I of The Laird's Luck and other Fireside Tales, free online book, by Arthur Quiller-Couch, on


In the following chapters I shall leave speaking of my own adventures and say something of a man whose exploits during the campaigns of 1811-1812 fell but a little short of mine.  I do so the more readily because he bore my own patronymic, and was after a fashion my kinsman; and I make bold to say that in our calling Captain Alan McNeill and I had no rival but each other.  The reader may ascribe what virtue he will to the parent blood of a family which could produce at one time in two distinct branches two men so eminent in a service requiring the rarest conjunction of courage and address.

I had often heard of Captain McNeill, and doubtless he had as often heard of me.  At least thrice in attempting a coup d’espionage upon ground he had previously covered ­albeit long before and on a quite different mission ­I had been forced to take into my calculations the fame left behind by “the Great McNeill,” and a wariness in our adversaries whom he had taught to lock the stable door after the horse had been stolen.  For while with the Allies the first question on hearing of some peculiarly daring feat would be “Which McNeill?” the French supposed us to be one and the same person; which, if possible, heightened their grudging admiration.

Yet the ambiguity of our friends upon these occasions was scarcely more intelligent than our foes’ complete bewilderment; since to anyone who studied even the theory of our business the Captain’s method and mine could have presented but the most superficial resemblance.  Each was original, and each carried even into details the unmistakable stamp of its author.  My combinations, I do not hesitate to say, were the subtler.  From choice I worked alone; while the Captain relied for help on his servant Jose (I never heard his surname), a Spanish peasant of remarkable quickness of sight, and as full of resource as of devotion.  Moreover I habitually used disguises, and prided myself in their invention, whereas it was the Captain’s vanity to wear his conspicuous scarlet uniform upon all occasions, or at most to cover it with his short dark-blue riding cloak.  This, while to be sure it enhanced the showiness of his exploits, obliged him to carry them through with a suddenness and dash foreign to the whole spirit of my patient work.  I must always maintain that mine were the sounder methods; yet if I had no other reason for my admiration I could not withhold it from a man who, when I first met him, had been wearing a British uniform for three days and nights within the circuit of the French camp.  I myself had been living within it in a constant twitter for hard upon three weeks.

It happened in March, 1812, when Marmont was concentrating his forces in the Salamanca district, with the intent (it was rumoured) of marching and retaking Ciudad Rodrigo, which the Allies had carried by assault in January.  This stroke, if delivered with energy, Lord Wellington could parry; but only at the cost of renouncing a success on which he had set his heart, the capture of Badajos.  Already he had sent forward the bulk of his troops with his siege-train on the march to that town, while he kept his headquarters to the last moment in Ciudad Rodrigo as a blind.  He felt confident of smashing Badajos before Soult with the army of the south could arrive to relieve it; but to do this he must leave both Almeida and Ciudad Rodrigo exposed to Marmont, the latter with its breaches scarcely healed and its garrison disaffected.  He did not fear actual disaster to these fortresses; he could hurry back in time to defeat that, for he knew that Marmont had no siege guns, and could only obtain them by successfully storming Almeida and capturing the battering train which lay there protected by 3,000 militia.  Nevertheless a serious effort by Marmont would force him to abandon his scheme.

All depended therefore (1) on how much Marmont knew and (2) on his readiness to strike boldly.  Consequently, when that General began to draw his scattered forces together and mass them on the Tormes before Salamanca, Wellington grew anxious; and it was to relieve that anxiety or confirm it that I found myself serving as tapster of the Posada del Rio in the village of Huerta, just above a ford of the river, and six miles from Salamanca.  Neither the pay it afforded nor the leisure had attracted me to the Posada del Rio.  Pay there was little, and leisure there was none, since Marmont’s lines came down to the river here, and we had a battalion of infantry quartered about the village ­sixteen under our roof ­and all extraordinarily thirsty fellows for Frenchmen; besides a squadron of cavalry, vedettes of which constantly patrolled the farther bank of the Tormes.  The cavalry officers kept their chargers ­six in all ­in the ramshackle stable in the court-yard facing the inn; and since (as my master explained to me the first morning) it was a tradition of the posada to combine the duties of tapster and ostler in one person, I found all the exercise I needed in running between the cellar and the great kitchen, and between the kitchen and the stable, where the troopers had always a job for me, and allowed me in return to join in their talk.  They seemed to think this an adequate reward, and I did not grumble.

Now, beside the stable, and divided from it by a midden-heap, there stood at the back of the inn a small outhouse with a loft.  This in more prosperous days had accommodated the master’s own mule, but now was stored with empty barrels, strings of onions, and trusses of hay ­which last had been hastily removed from the larger stable when the troopers took possession.  Here I slept by night, for lack of room indoors, and also to guard the fodder ­an arrangement which suited me admirably, since it left me my own master for six or seven hours of the twenty-four.  My bedroom furniture consisted of a truss of hay, a lantern, a tinder-box, and a rusty fowling piece.  For my toilet I went to the bucket in the stable yard.

On the fifth night, having some particular information to send to headquarters, I made a cautious expedition to the place agreed upon with my messenger ­a fairly intelligent muleteer, and honest, but new to the business.  We met in the garden at the rear of his cottage, conveniently approached by way of the ill-kept cemetery which stood at the end of the village.  If surprised, I was to act the nocturnal lover, and he the angry defender of his sister’s reputation ­a foolish but not ill-looking girl, to whom I had confided nothing beyond a few amorous glances, so that her evidence (if unluckily needed) might carry all the weight of an obvious incapacity to invent or deceive.

These precautions proved unnecessary.  But my muleteer, though plucky, was nervous, and I had to repeat my instructions at least thrice in detail before I felt easy.  Also he brought news of a fresh movement of battalions behind Huerta, and of a sentence in the latest General Order affecting my own movements, and this obliged me to make some slight alteration in my original message.  So that, what with one thing and another, it wanted but an hour of dawn when I regained the yard of the Posada del Rio and cautiously re-entered the little granary.

Rain had fallen during the night ­two or three short but heavy showers.  Creeping on one’s belly between the damp graves of a cemetery is not the pleasantest work in the world, and I was shivering with wet and cold and an instant want of sleep.  But as I closed the door behind me and turned to grope for the ladder to my sleeping loft, I came to a halt, suddenly and painfully wide awake.  There was someone in the granary.  In the pitch darkness my ear caught the sound of breathing ­of someone standing absolutely still and checking his breath within a few paces of me ­perhaps six, perhaps less.

I, too, stood absolutely still, and lifted my hand towards the hasp of the door.  And as I did so ­in all my career I cannot recall a nastier moment ­as my hand went up, it encountered another.  I felt the fingers closing on my wrist, and wrenched loose.  For a moment our two hands wrestled confusedly; but while mine tugged at the latch the other found the key and twisted it round with a click. (I had oiled the lock three nights before.) With that I flung myself on him, but again my adversary was too quick, for as I groped for his throat my chest struck against his uplifted knee, and I dropped on the floor and rolled there in intolerable pain.

No one spoke.  As I struggled to raise myself on hands and knees, I heard the chipping of steel on flint, and caught a glimpse of a face.  As its lips blew on the tinder this face vanished and reappeared, and at length grew steady in the blue light of the sulphur match.  It was not the face, however, on which my eyes rested in a stupid wonder, but the collar below it ­the scarlet collar and tunic of a British officer.

And yet the face may have had something to do with my bewilderment.  I like, at any rate, to think so; because I have been in corners quite as awkward, yet have never known myself so pitifully demoralised.  The uniform might be that of a British officer, but the face was that of Don Quixote de la Mancha, and shone at me in that blue light straight out of my childhood and the story-book.  High brow, high cheek-bone, long pointed jaw, lined and patient face ­I saw him as I had known him all my life, and I turned up at the other man, who stooped over me, a look of absurd surmise.

He was a Spanish peasant, short, thick-set and muscular, but assuredly no Sancho:  a quiet quick-eyed man, with a curious neat grace in his movements.  Our tussle had not heated him in the least.  His right fist rested on my back, and I knew he had a knife in it; and while I gasped for breath he watched me, his left hand hovering in front of my mouth to stop the first outcry.  Through his spread fingers I saw Don Quixote light the lantern and raise it for a good look at me.  And with that in a flash my wits came back, and with them the one bit of Gaelic known to me.

Latha math leat” I gasped, and caught my breath again as the fingers closed softly on my jaw, “O Alan mhic Neill!”

The officer took a step and swung the lantern close to my eyes ­so close that I blinked.

“Gently, Jose.”  He let out a soft pleased laugh while he studied my face.  Then he spoke a word or two in Gaelic ­some question which I did not understand.

“My name is McNeill,” said I; “but that’s the end of my mother tongue.”

The Captain laughed again.  “We’ve caught the other one, Jose,” said he.  And Jose helped me to my feet ­respectfully, I thought.  “Now this,” his master went on, as if talking to himself, “this explains a good deal.”

I guessed.  “You mean that my presence has made the neighbourhood a trifle hot for you!”

“Exactly; there is a General Order issued which concerns one or both of us.”

I nodded.  “In effect it concerns us both; but, merely as a matter of history, it was directed against me.  Pardon the question, Captain, but how long have you been within the French lines?”

“Three days,” he answered simply; “and this is the third night.”

“What?  In that uniform?”

“I never use disguises,” said he ­a little too stiffly for my taste.

“Well, I do.  And I have been within Marmont’s cantonments for close, on three weeks.  However, there’s no denying you’re a champion.  But did you happen to notice the date on the General Order?”

“I did; and I own it puzzled me.  I concluded that Marmont must have been warned beforehand of my coming.”

“Not a bit of it.  The order is eight days old.  I secured a copy on the morning it was issued; and the next day, having learnt all that was necessary in Salamanca, I allowed myself to be hired in the market-place of that city by the landlord of this damnable inn.”

“I disapprove of swearing,” put in Captain McNeill, very sharp and curt.

“As well as of disguises?  You seem to carry a number of scruples into this line of business.  I suppose,” said I, nettled, “when you read in the General Order that the notorious McNeill was lurking disguised within the circle of cantonments, you took it that Marmont was putting a wanton affront on your character, just for the fun of the thing?”

“My dear sir,” said the Captain, “if I have expressed myself rudely, pray pardon me:  I have heard too much of you to doubt your courage, and I have envied your exploits too often to speak slightingly of your methods.  As a matter of fact, disguise would do nothing, and worse than nothing, for a man who speaks Spanish with my Highland accent.  I may, perhaps, take a foolish pride in my disadvantage, but,” and here he smiled, “so, you remember, did the fox without a tail.”

“And that’s very handsomely spoken,” said I; “but unless I’m mistaken, you will have to break your rule for once, if you wish to cross the Tormes this morning.”

“It’s a case of must.  Barring the certainty of capture if I don’t, I have important news to carry ­Marmont starts within forty-eight hours.”

“Since it seems that for once we are both engaged on the same business, let me say at once, Captain, and without offence, that my news is as fresh as yours.  Marmont certainly starts within forty-eight hours to assault Ciudad Rodrigo, and my messenger is already two hours on his way to Lord Wellington.”

I said this without parade, not wishing to hurt his feelings.  Looking up I found his mild eyes fixed on me with a queer expression, almost with a twinkle of fun.

“To assault Ciudad Rodrigo?  I think not.”

“Almeida, then, and Ciudad Rodrigo next.  So far as we are concerned the question is not important.”

“My opinion is that Marmont intends to assault neither.”

“But, my good sir,” I cried, “I have seen and counted the scaling-ladders!”

“And so have I. I spent six hours in Salamanca itself,” said the Captain quietly.

“Well, but doesn’t that prove it?  What other place on earth can he want to assault?  He certainly is not marching south to join Soult.”  I turned to Jose, who had been listening with an impassive face.

“The Captain will be right.  He always is,” said Jose, perceiving that I appealed to him.

“I will wager a month’s pay ­”

“I never bet,” Captain McNeill interrupted, as stiffly as before.  “As you say, Marmont will march upon the Agueda, but in my opinion he will not assault Ciudad Kodrigo.”

“Then he will be a fool.”

“H’m!  As to that I think we are agreed.  But the question just now is how am I to get across the Tormes?  The ford, I suppose, is watched on both sides.”  I nodded.  “And I suppose it will be absolutely fatal to remain here long after daybreak?”

“Huerta swarms with soldiers,” said I, “we have sixteen in the posada and a cavalry picket just behind.  A whole battalion has eaten the village bare, and is foraging in all kinds of unlikely places.  To be sure you might have a chance in the loft above us, under the hay.”

“Even so, you cannot hide our horses.”

“Your horses?”

“Yes, they’re outside at the back.  I didn’t know there was a cavalry picket so close, and Jose must have missed it in the darkness.”

Jose looked handsomely ashamed of himself.

“They are well-behaved horses,” added the Captain.  “Still, if they cannot be stowed somewhere, it is unlikely they can be explained away, and of course it will start a search.”

“Our stable is full.”

“Of course it is.  Therefore you see we have no choice ­apart from our earnest wish ­but to cross the ford before daybreak.  How is it patrolled on the far side?”

“Cavalry,” said I; “two vedettes.”

“Meeting, I suppose, just opposite the ford?  How far do they patrol?”

“Three hundred yards maybe:  certainly not more.”

The Captain pursed up his lips as if whistling.

“Is there good cover on the other side?  My map shows a wood of fair size.”

“About half a mile off; open country between.  Once there, you ought to be all right; I mean that a man clever enough to win there ought to make child’s-play of the rest.”

He mused for half a minute.  “The stream is two wide for me to hear the movements of the patrols opposite.  Jose has a wonderful ear.”

“Yes, Captain, I can hear the water from where we stand,” Jose put in.

“He is right,” said I, “it’s not a question of distance, but of the noise of the water.  The ford itself will not be more than twenty yards across.”

“What depth?”

“Three feet in the middle, as near as can be.  I have rubbed down too many horses these last three days not to know.  The river may have fallen an inch since yesterday.  They have cleared the bottom of the ford, but just above and below there are rocks, and slippery ones.”

“My horse is roughed.  Of course the bank is, watched on this side?”

“Two sentries by the ford, two a little up the road, and the guard-house not twenty yards beyond.  Captain, I think you’ll have to put on a disguise for once in your life.”

“Not if I can help it.”

“Then, excuse me, but how the devil do you propose to manage?”

He frowned at the oath, recovered himself, and looked at me again with something like a twinkle of fun in his solemn eyes.

“Do you know,” said he, “it has just occurred to me to pay you a tremendous compliment ­McNeill to McNeill, you understand?  I propose to place myself entirely in your hands.”

“Oh, thank you!” I pulled a wry face.  “Well, it’s a compliment if ever there was one ­an infernally handsome compliment.  Your man, I suppose, can look after himself?” But before he could reply I added, “No; he shall go with me:  for if you do happen to get across, I shall have to follow, and look sharp about it.”  Then, as he seemed inclined to protest, “No inconvenience at all ­my work here is done, and you are pretty sure to have picked up any news I may have missed.  You had best be getting your horse at once; the dawn will be on us in half an hour.  Bring him round to the door here.  Jose will find straw ­hay ­anything ­to deaden his footsteps.  Meanwhile I’ll ask you to excuse me for five minutes.”

The Spaniard eyed me suspiciously.

“Of course,” said I, reading his thoughts, “if your master doubts me ­”

“I think, Senor McNeill, I have given you no cause to suspect it,” the Captain gravely interrupted.  “There is, however, one question I should like to ask, if I may do so without offence.  Is it your intention that I should cross in the darkness or wait for daylight?”

“We must wait for daylight; because although it increases some obvious dangers ­”

“Excuse me; your reasons are bound to be good ones.  I will fetch around my horse at once, and we shall expect you back here in five minutes.”

In five minutes time I returned to find them standing in the darkness outside the granary door.  Jose had strewn a space round about with hay; but at my command he fetched more and spread it carefully, step by step, as Captain McNeill led his horse forward.  My own arms were full; for I had spent the five minutes in collecting a score of French blankets and shirts off the hedges, where the regimental washermen had spread them the day before to dry.

The sketch on the following page will explain my plan and our movements better than a page of explanation: ­

The reader will observe that the Posada del Rio, which faces inwards upon its own courtyard, thrusts out upon the river at its rear a gable which overhangs the stream and flanks its small waterside garden from view of the village street.  Into this garden, where the soldiers were used to sit and drink their wine of an evening, I led the Captain, whispering him to keep silence, for eight of the Frenchmen slept behind the windows above.  In the corner by the gable was an awning, sufficient, when cleared of stools and tables, to screen him and his horse from any eyes looking down from these windows, though not tall enough to allow him to mount.  And at daybreak, when the battalion assembled at its alarm-post above the ford, the gable itself would hide him.  But of course the open front of the garden ­where in two places the bank shelved easily down to the water ­would leave him in full view of the troopers across the river.  It was for this that I had brought the blankets.  Across the angle by the gable there ran a clothes line on which the house-servant, Mercedes, hung her dish-clouts to dry.  Unfastening the inner end, I brought it forward and lashed it to a post supporting a dovecote on the river wall.  To fasten it high enough I had to climb the post, and this set the birds moving uneasily in the box overhead.  But before their alarm grew serious I had slipped down to earth again, and now it took Jose and me but a couple of minutes to fling the blankets over the line and provide the Captain with a curtain, behind which, when day broke, he could watch the troopers and his opportunity.  Already, in the village behind us, a cock was crowing.  In twenty minutes the sun would be up and the bugles sounding the reveille.  “Down the bank by the gable,” I whispered.  “It runs shallow there, and six or seven yards to the right you strike the ford.  When the vedettes are separated ­just before they turn to come back ­that’s your time.”

I took Jose by the arm.  “We may as well be there to see.  How were you planning to cross?”

“Oh,” said he, “a marketer ­with a raw-boned Galician horse and two panniers of eggs ­for Arapiles ­”

“That will do; but you must enter the village at the farther end and come down the road to the ford.  Get your horse” ­we crept back to the granary together ­“but wait a moment, and I will show you the way round.”

When I rejoined him at the back of the granary he had his horse ready, and we started to work around the village.  But I had miscalculated the time.  The sky was growing lighter, and scarcely were we in the lane behind the courtyard before the bugles began to sound.

“Well,” said I, “that may save us some trouble after all.”

Across the lane was an archway leading into a wheelwright’s yard.  It had a tall door of solid oak studded with iron nails; but this was unlocked and unbolted, and I knew the yard to be vacant, for the French farriers had requisitioned all the wheelwright’s tools three days before, and the honest man had taken to his bed and proposed to stay there pending compensation.

To this archway we hastily crossed, and had barely time to close the door behind us before the soldiers, whose billets lay farther up the lane, came running by in twos and threes for the alarm-post, the later ones buckling their accoutrements as they ran halting now and then, and muttering as they fumbled with a strap or a button.  Jose at my instruction had loosened his horse’s off hind shoe just sufficiently to allow it to clap; and as soon as he was ready I opened the door boldly, and we stepped out into the lane among the soldiers, cursing the dog’s son of a smith who would not arise from his lazy bed to attend to two poor marketers pressed for time.

Now it had been dim within the archway, but out in the lane there was plenty of light, and it did me good to see Jose start when his eyes fell on me.  For a couple of seconds I am sure he believed himself betrayed:  and yet, as I explained to him afterwards, it was perhaps the simplest of all my disguises and ­barring the wig ­depended more upon speech and gait than upon any alteration of the face. (For a particular account of it I must refer the reader back to my adventure in Villafranca.  On this occasion, having proved it once, I felt more confident; and since it deceived Jose, I felt I could challenge scrutiny as an aged peasant travelling with his son to market.)

A couple of soldiers passed us and flung jests behind them as we hobbled down the lane, the loose shoe clacking on the cobbles, Jose tugging at his bridle, and I limping behind and swearing volubly, with bent back and head low by the horse’s rump, and on the near side, which would be the unexposed one when we gained the ford.  And so we reached the main street and the river, Jose turning to point with wonder at the troops as we hustled past.  One or two made a feint to steal an egg from our panniers.  Jose protested, halting and calling in Spanish for protection.  A sergeant interfered; whereupon the men began to bait us, calling after us in scraps of camp Spanish.  Jose lost his temper admirably; for me, I shuffled along as an old man dazed with the scene; and when we came to the water’s edge felt secure enough to attempt a trifle of comedy business as Jose hoisted my old limbs on to the horse’s back behind the panniers.  It fetched a shout of laughter.  And then, having slipped off boots and stockings deliberately, Jose took hold of the bridle again and waded into the stream.  We were safe.

I had found time for a glance at the farther bank, and saw that the troopers were leisurely riding to and fro.  They met and parted just as we entered the ford.  Before we were half-way across they had come near to the end of their beat, with about three hundred yards between them, and I was thinking this a fair opportunity for the Captain when Jose whispered, “There he goes,” very low and quick, and with a souse, horse and rider struck the water behind us by the gable of the inn.  As the stream splashed up around them we saw the horse slip on the stony bottom and fall back, almost burying his haunches, but with two short heaves he had gained the good gravel and was plunging after us.  The infantry spied him first ­the two vedettes were in the act of wheeling about and heard the warning before they saw.  Before they could put their charges to the gallop Captain McNeill was past us and climbing the bank between them.  A bullet or two sang over us from the Huerta shore.  Not knowing of what his horse was capable, I feared he might yet be headed off; but the troopers in their flurry had lost their heads and their only chance unless they could drop him by a fluking shot.  They galloped straight for the ford-head, while the Captain slipped between, and were almost charging each other before they could pull up and wheel at right angles in pursuit.

“Good,” said Jose simply.  A shot had struck one of our panniers, smashing a dozen eggs (by the smell he must have bought them cheap), and he halted and gesticulated in wrath like a man in two minds about returning and demanding compensation.  Then he seemed to think better of it, and we moved forward; but twice again before we reached dry land he turned and addressed the soldiers in furious Spanish across the babble of the ford.  Jose had gifts.

For my part I was eager to watch the chase which the rise of the bank hid from us, though we could hear a few stray shots.  But Jose’s confidence proved well grounded, for when we struck the high road there was the Captain half a mile away within easy reach of the wood, and a full two hundred yards ahead of the foremost trooper.

“Good!” said Jose again.  “Now we can eat!” and he pulled out a loaf of coarse bread from the injured pannier, and trimming off an end where the evil-smelling eggs had soaked it, divided it in two.  On this and a sprig of garlic we broke our fast, and were munching and jogging along contentedly when we met the returning vedettes.  They were not in the best of humours, you may be sure, and although we drew aside and paused with crusts half lifted to our open mouths to stare at them with true yokel admiration, they cursed us for taking up too much of the roadway, and one of them even made a cut with his sabre at the near pannier of eggs.

“It’s well he broke none,” said I as we watched them down the road.  “I don’t deny you and your master any reasonable credit, but for my taste you leave a little too much to luck.”

Our road now began to skirt the wood into which the Captain had escaped, and we followed it for a mile and more, Jose all the while whistling a gipsy air which I guessed to carry a covert message; and sure enough, after an hour of it, the same air was taken up in the wood to our right, where we found the Captain dismounted and seated comfortably at the foot of a cork tree.

He was good enough to pay me some pretty compliments, and, after comparing notes, we agreed that ­my messenger being a good seven hours on his way with all the information Lord Wellington could need for the moment ­we would keep company for a day or two, and a watch on the force and disposition of the French advance.  We had yet to discover Marmont’s objective.  For though in Salamanca the French officers had openly talked of the assault on Ciudad Rodrigo, there was still a chance (though neither of us believed in it) that their general meant to turn aside and strike southward for the Tagus.  Our plan, therefore, was to make for Tammames where the roads divided, where the hills afforded good cover, and to wait.

So towards Tammames (which lay some thirty miles off) we turned our faces, and arriving there on the 27th, encamped for two days among the hills.  Marmont had learnt on the 14th that none of Wellington’s divisions were on the Algueda, and we agreed, having watched his preparations, that on the 27th he would be ready to start.  These two days, therefore, we spent at ease, and I found the Captain, in spite of his narrow and hide-bound religion, an agreeable companion.  He had the McNeills’ genealogy at his finger ends, and I picked up more information from him concerning our ancestral home in Ross and our ancestral habits than I have ever been able to verify.  Certainly our grandfathers, Manus of Aranjuez and Angus (slain at Sheriff-muir), had been first cousins.  But this discovery had no sooner raised me to a claim on his regard than I found his cordiality chilled by the thought that I believed in the Pope or (as he preferred to put it) Antichrist.  My eminence as a genuine McNeill made the shadow of my error the taller.  In these two days of inactivity I felt his solicitude growing until, next to the immediate movements of Marmont, my conversion became for him the most important question in the Peninsula, and I saw that, unless I allowed him at least to attempt it, another forty-eight hours would wear him to fiddle-strings.

Thus it happened that mid-day of the 30th found us on the wooded hill above the cross-roads; found me stretched at full length on my back and smoking, and the Captain (who did not smoke) seated beside me with his pocket Testament, earnestly sapping the fundamental errors of Rome, when Jose, who had been absent all the morning reconnoitring, brought news that Marmont’s van (which he had been watching, and ahead of which he had been dodging since ten o’clock) was barely two miles away.  The Captain pulled out his watch, allowed them thirty-five minutes, and quietly proceeded with his exposition.  As the head of the leading column swung into sight around the base of the foot-hills, he sought in his haversack and drew out a small volume ­the Pilgrim’s Progress ­and having dog’s-eared a page of it inscribed my name on the fly-leaf, “from his kinsman, Alan McNeill.”

“It is a question,” said he, as I thanked him, “and one often debated, if it be not better that a whole army, such as we see approaching, should perish bodily in every circumstance of horror than that one soul, such as yours or mine, should fail to find the true light.  For my part” ­and here he seemed to deprecate a weakness ­“I have never been able to go quite so far; I hope not from any lack of intellectual courage.  Will you take notes while I dictate?”

So on the last leaf of the Pilgrim’s Progress I entered the strength of each battalion, and noted each gun as the great army wound its way into Tammames below us, and through it for the cross-roads beyond, but not in one body, for two of the battalions enjoyed an hour’s halt there before setting forward after their comrades, by this time out of sight.  They had taken the northern road.

“Ciudad Rodrigo!” said I.  “And there goes Wellington’s chance of Badajos.”

The Captain beckoned to Jose and whispered in his ear, then opened his Testament again as the sturdy little Spaniard set off down the hill with his leisurely, lopping gait, so much faster than it seemed.  The sun was setting when he returned with his report.

“I thought so,” said the Captain.  “Marmont has left three-fourths of his scaling ladders behind in Tammames.  Ciudad Rodrigo he will not attempt; I doubt if he means business with Almeida.  If you please,” he added, “Jose and I will push after and discover his real business, while you carry to Lord Wellington a piece of news it will do him good to hear.”