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.”