I left him, therefore, and limped forward along the track until it took an abrupt turn around a shoulder of the mountain. Immediately below me, unless I erred in my bearings, a desolate sheep farm stood but a short distance above the high road. Towards this I descended, and finding it with no great difficulty, knocked gently at the back door. To my surprise the shepherd opened it almost at once. He was fully dressed in spite of the lateness of the hour, and seemed greatly perturbed; nor, I can promise you, was he reassured when, after giving him the signal arranged between Trant and the peasantry, I followed him into his kitchen and his eyes fell on my French uniform.
But it was my turn to be perturbed when, satisfied with my explanation, he informed me that a body of cavalry had passed along the road towards Guarda a good twenty minutes before. It was this had awakened him. “No infantry?” I asked.
He shook his head positively. He had been on the watch ever since. And this, while it jumped with my own conviction that the infantry was at least a mile behind me, gave me new hope. I could not understand this straggling march, but it was at least reasonable to suppose that Marmont’s horse would wait upon his foot before attempting such a position as Guarda.
“I must push on,” said I, and instructed him where to seek for my unfortunate charger.
He walked down with me to the road. My ankle pained me cruelly.
“See here,” said he, “the senor had best let me go with him. It is but six miles, and I can recover the horse in the morning.”
He was in earnest, and I consented. It was fortunate that I did, or I might have dropped in the road and been found or trodden on by the French column behind us.
As it was I broke down after the second mile. The shepherd took me in his arms like a child and found cover for me below a bank to the left of the road beside the stream in the valley bottom. I gave him my instructions and he hurried on.
Lying there in the darkness half an hour later I heard the tramp of the brigade approaching, and lay and listened while they went by.
I have often, in writing these memoirs, wished I could be inventing instead of setting down facts. With a little invention only, how I could have rounded off this adventure! But that is the way with real events. All my surprising luck ended with the casual stumble of a horse, and it was not I who saved Guarda, nor even my messenger, but Marmont’s own incredible folly.
When my shepherd reached the foot of the ascent to the fortress he heard a drum beaten suddenly in the darkness above. This single drum kept rattling (he told me) for at least a minute before a score of others took up the alarm. There had been no other warning, not so much as a single shot fired; and even after the drums began there was no considerable noise of musketry until the day broke and the shepherd saw