On the 6th I reached Castello Branco and found the position of the Allies sufficiently serious. Victor Alten’s German cavalry were in the town—600 of them—having fallen back before Marmont without striking a blow, and leaving the whole country four good marches from Rodrigo exposed to the French marauders. They reported that Rodrigo itself had fallen (which I knew to be false, and, as it turned out, Marmont had left but one division to blockade the place); they spoke openly of a further retreat upon Vilha Velha. But I regarded them not. They had done mischief enough already by scampering southward and allowing Marmont to push in between them and the weak militias on whom it now depended to save Almeida with its battering train, Celorico and Pinhel with their magazines, and even Ciudad Rodrigo itself; and while I listened I tasted to myself the sarcastic compliments they were likely to receive from Lord Wellington when he heard their tale.
Clearly there was no good to be done in Castello Branco, and the next morning I pushed on. I had no intention of rejoining Captain McNeill; for, as he had observed on parting—quoting some old Greek for his authority—“three of us are not enough for an army, and for any other purpose we are too many,” and although pleased enough to have a kinsman’s company he had allowed me to see that he preferred to work alone with Jose, who understood his methods, whereas mine (in spite of his compliments) were unfamiliar and puzzling. I knew him to be watching Marmont, and even speculated on the chances of our meeting, but my own purpose was to strike the Coa, note the French force there and its disposition, and so make with all serviceable news for the north, where Generals Trant and Wilson with their Portuguese militia were endeavouring to cover the magazines.
Travelling on mule-back now as a Portuguese drover out of work, I dodged a couple of marauding parties below Penamacor, found Marmont in force in Sabugal at the bend of the Coa, on the 9th reached Guarda, a town on the top of a steep mountain, and there found General Trant in position with about 6,000 raw militiamen. To him I presented myself with my report—little of which was new to him except my reason for believing Ciudad Rodrigo safe for the present; and this he heard with real pleasure, chiefly because it confirmed his own belief and gave it a good reason which it had hitherto lacked.
And here I must say a word on General Trant. He was a gallant soldier and a clever one, but inclined (and here lay his weakness) to be on occasion too clever by half. In fact, he had a leaning towards my own line of business, and naturally it was just here that I found him out. I am not denying that during the past fortnight his cleverness had served him well. He had with a handful of untrained troops to do his best for a group of small towns and magazines, each valuable and each in itself impossible of defence. His one advantage was that he knew his weakness and the enemy did not, and he had used this knowledge with almost ludicrous success.