“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.”
THE BARBER-SURGEON OF SABUGAL
So, leaving my two comrades to follow up and detect the true object of Marmont’s campaign, I headed south for Badajos. The roads were heavy, the mountain torrents in flood, the only procurable horses and mules such as by age or debility had escaped the strictest requisitioning. Nevertheless, on the 4th of April I was able to present myself at Lord Wellington’s headquarters before Badajos, and that same evening started northwards again with his particular instructions. I understood (not, of course, by direct word of mouth) that disquieting messages had poured in ahead of me from the allied commanders scattered in the north, who reported Ciudad Rodrigo in imminent peril; that my news brought great relief of mind; but that in any case our army now stood committed to reduce Badajos before Soult came to its relief. Our iron guns had worked fast and well, and already three breaches on the eastern side of the town were nearly practicable. Badajos once secured, Wellington would press northward again to teach Marmont manners; but for the moment our weak troops opposing him must even do the best they could to gain time and protect the magazines and stores.
At six o’clock then in the evening of the 4th, on a fresh mount, I turned my back on the doomed fortress, and crossing the Guadiana by the horse ferry above Elvas, struck into the Alemtejo.